“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
RELEASE DATE: July 26, 2019
MPAA RATING: R (for language, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references)
Writer/director Quentin Tarantino once again upends cinema with his ninth feature film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. A master of storytelling, Tarantino here provides an homage to moviemaking and the Hollywood of yesteryear while manipulating history to intertwine characters and events both of fact and of fiction.
Set in Tinseltown and its environs in 1969, the story surrounds actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). As Dalton’s run on a Western television series comes to an end, he struggles to further his career by making guest appearances on other programs domestically, and by starring in “Spaghetti Westerns” filmed abroad. Booth, meanwhile, remains on Dalton’s payroll but less as a stunt double and more as a personal assistant, with duties ranging from chauffeuring to repairing a TV antenna.
Key to the film is Dalton residing next door to actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) whose home on Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon was the site of the brutal Tate-LaBianca murders in 1969 committed by members of the Charles Manson “family.” At the risk of providing spoilers, suffice it to note that these characters are also pivotal to Tarantino’s saga.
At a running time of more than two-and-a-half hours, the film is plodding as it is plotting, taking its time to establish place and to develop character. Attention to detail in re-establishing the Hollywood of the 1960s is extraordinary, and Tarantino balances dark humor with some intense and graphic, in-your-face images which audiences have come to expect from the filmmaker. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a compelling film with stellar performances by its leads and by a strong and interesting supporting cast.