Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019) Director: Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s latest deliberately historically revisionist and ultra violent film (though not til the very ending) is a somewhat different film from his other recent notables, like Django or The Hateful Eight. It stars: Leonardo Dicaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch and others. It is Tarantino’s ninth film (he once said he will likely make ten films and then retire).
The first half of the movie is about Rick Dalton, a washed up 1950s Western film star from an old series called Bounty Law. He is an alcoholic, and a vain, emotional wreck who lives up in the Hollywood hills next to Roman Polanski. Dalton spends much of his time with his stunt double, Cliff Booth, a true cowboy and former veteran who lives in a trailer out by the drive-in movie theater. He is rumored to have murdered his wife in a boating accident, and thus has had trouble finding work. Dalton finally gets some work as the villain in a Western, and the plot shifts to Booth who gets kicked off the set after beating up Bruce Lee in a hilarious scene. He picks up a hitchhiking hippie and takes her back to the ranch where she and her hippie friends live (though Booth remembers as it as an old set for Bounty Law). In a tense scene he confronts the owner who is feeble and forgetful in the backroom. He goes back out to his car and beats up a hippie who has deflated his tire. These hippies are members of Charles Manson’s group. Meanwhile, Dalton’s performance is a success and he finds work in Sergio Corbucci Spaghetti Westerns in Italy. Booth comes along and is featured in a couple films. They return home and Dalton has a new wife and says he no longer needs Booth’s services. Booth smokes an acid-laced cigarette he received from the hippie a long time ago. That night, the members of Charles Manson’s crew come to murder Sharon Tate at Roman Polanski’s house, however after Dalton comes out and yells at them, they decide to murder him.
The film closes with a funny but disturbing scene of grotesque violence as Booth orders his dog to attack them, he beats up another one of them, and finally one is put to death by a flamethrower by Dalton in his swimming pool (an old prop from one of his movies). The ordeal leads Dalton to become friends with his neighbors, Polanski and Tate. Thus, they were never killed by the Manson group.
Tarantino’s latest is unusual. I was fascinated by the relationship between the fragile mess-of-an-actor in Dalton’s character, as well as his stronger all-American stunt double friend and protector in Booth. However, at the end of the film I was left asking myself, why such a long backstory to both characters? What is the point? In the end, it is a fable, or perhaps even an ode to a time gone by, when anything was possible in old Hollywood. It is the product of a maturing, and more reflective Tarantino, despite his many challenges. Perhaps Tarantino will be remembered as one of the greats. Or perhaps he will be remembered as a kid in a candy store -films filled with unnecessary violence, sex, and other gratuity, in conjunction with his shady relationship with disgraced former Hollywood strong-arm producer, Harvey Weinstein (who even sexually assaulted Uma Thurman during the filing of Kill Bill, which led Tarantino to confront Weinstein not for the first time about sexual abuse allegations). As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown less and less entranced by Tarantino’s films.