My first thought after seeing “Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood” is that I think I might like hanging out with Quentin Tarantino. We seem to have a lot in common when it comes to a love for bygone times. Vintage television, clothing, cars, and a time when things were a tad simpler yet maybe more exciting.
In a way, I felt like I WAS hanging out with Tarantino as I watched this movie, his first since The Hateful Eight in 2015. “Hollywood” is not what you’d expect from Tarantino, although it has plenty of the elements his movies are known for. This movie is far more laid back and far easier going than his other offerings.
It’s also a picture about friendship and loyalty, between former television western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The movie picks up a few years after Dalton has quit his successful television show to pursue a brief and unsuccessful movie career.
Booth, the ever-loyal buddy, can no longer make a living being a stunt man and so acts as Dalton’s gopher, valet and drinking buddy.
There is an immediate sense of loyalty and love between the two friends, even though they are the chain-smoking, hard-drinking tough guys that some of us may remember from another era. These are the guys we once looked up to on the screen; the tough guys. They were our ideals. They were and still are cool.
The story follows the friends as Dalton begins a quest to reinvigorate his career. Along the way, we get a glimpse into the lives of Dalton’s neighbors, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Rafal Zawierucha and the phenomenal Margot Robbie), who live up the lane behind a large gate on Cielo Drive.
We also meet a pretty young hippie girl, “Pussycat,” played by Margaret Qualley, who hitches a ride with Cliff to the old Spahn movie ranch where she lives. There, Cliff reminisces about the days he worked there and meets Pussycat’s friends, a group of disciples who follow a man named Charles Manson.
If you are familiar with the dates and times that continue to be flashed on the screen and if you are familiar with the story of the Manson family murders, you will feel a sense of darkness and perhaps fearful apprehension as many of the carefree scenes unfold.
Yet the movie’s overall tone is that of dangerous fun, tongue-in-cheek playfulness, and pleasure. The elements of the real-life story work well with the fictional elements of the film to create a snapshot of a life in the late 1960s; a snapshot that will evoke many emotions.
The acting is phenomenal, especially the chemistry between Pitt and DiCaprio. The supporting cast is fantastic, with cameos from pros like Al Pacino and Bruce Dern. The scenes, the cars, the clothing and the music all mix together to offer a visually and aesthetically stunning film. As I said, the film will evoke many emotions – especially in the end when we are feeling satisfied, validated and a little saddened as we ask the question: What if?
“Once Upon a Time in … Hollywood” is rated R for language and violence. It runs 2 hours, 41 minutes (It’s a longer film, but you won’t notice) and opens in theaters Friday, July 26.
Go see it on the big screen. My grade: A