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A Review of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, salvages what is left of the 60s golden age in L.A for one final farewell. Instead of using CGIs and green screens, the movie was filmed entirely with actual locations and stand-ins. To the delight of the viewer, Tarantino reverts Hollywood to what it would have looked like during his childhood.

The film depicts the climate of Hollywood in the 1960s as aging western actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) struggles to adapt to the changing film industry. Dalton’s career is on the decline after his television series, Bounty Law, is cancelled, and he’s caught between the opportunity of going to Europe to star in Spaghetti Westerns or staying in Hollywood to continue landing small gigs in feature films.

Dalton stays in Hollywood lands a role as the villain in a new series, Lancer. He is faced with the reality of the declining market of Western films when his character is made to appeal to the “hippy” sub-culture. Dalton’s raw emotion is captured on the set of Lancer and gives the audience insight into the stress and preparation it takes on the scene of a production. Leonardo DiCaprio does an astounding job as Rick Dalton, his acting makes you feel as if you are in the room with him.

Dalton’s stunt double, Cliff Booth, can be seen driving up and down busy Los Angeles streets in a beige Cadillac, spending his days chaperoning Dalton from sets, fixing Dalton’s television antenna and lounging in his trailer in the parking lot of a drive-in theatre with his dog, Brandy. The relationship between Dalton and Booth is half-business, half-friendship.

However, Booth is out of work over the mysterious circumstances surrounding his wife’s death. The only investigation into the death of Booth’s wife is a flashback scene of the couple arguing on a boat, and another flashback of Booth being kicked off the set of Green Hornet over the accusations and a fight with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). The audience is left to decide for themselves whether or not Booth killed his wife — a classic Tarantino cliffhanger. The flashback scenes in the movie were a bit confusing at first and they seemed out of place, especially since the movie started to drag on beforehand, someone not paying attention fully could easily get lost at this part in the film.

When Booth and Dalton retire nightly to Dalton’s home on Cielo Drive in the Santa Monica mountains, Dalton feels that his new neighbors, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband, director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha), could be the salvation of his career.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Manson family or the Sharon Tate murders of August 1969, the appeal and purpose of the movie might fly straight over their heads. The Manson Family murders occurred on August 8th, 1969 when four members of Charles Manson’s cult invaded the home of actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski. Among the victims were Sharon Tate, who was pregnant at the time, and her four friends who were staying with her while Roman was out of town.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stays close to the facts of the real Manson cult and the Tate family, using the actual location of the Spahn ranch where the cult stayed, as well as the real location of Sharon Tate’s house on Cielo Drive. Tarantino stretches as far as using the real names of the Manson family members such as Tex Watson, and real footage from Sharon Tate’s 1969 film the Wrecking Crew.

Sharon Tate photographed in 1967 for Valley of the Dolls

The first time the Manson girls appear, they are portrayed as seductive, spacey girls dumpster diving while singing a chilling tune. Charles Manson himself is only seen once in the film at Sharon Tate’s house on Cielo Drive, where he introduces himself as a friend of Dennis Wilson’s, the drummer of the Beach Boys. Throughout the movie, the Manson girls reference him as “Charlie,” but he does not make another appearance.

Rather than having their lifestyle glamourized as it has been in popular culture, Tarantino pictures the Manson family’s living quarters at the Spahn Ranch as dirty and unkempt. I admire the fact that the movie’s primary focus is not the Manson cult and instead it reflects on the life and filmography of actress Sharon Tate and her fictional neighbour Rick Dalton.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows the lines of a hangout film — for the first three-quarters of the film, there is no real conflict, and instead, the audience is meant to admire the cinematography and get to know the characters. The dialogue, like in most Tarantino films, is witty, reflective of the time period and straight to the point.

Personally, I thought the piece was brilliant but not something that I could connect with and fall in love with due to the time period. Tarantino wrote this film in ode to 60s nostalgia and film production, two things that don’t have a big impact on my personal life. As well, while the beginning of the movie to be excruciatingly long, the ending was very predictable and rushed. I would not recommend this film to people who haven’t seen any Tarantino movies or those who are interested in more plot-driven movies.

This to me feels like a movie I would rather sit at home and watch for leisure rather than going to see it in the theatre. Very much like Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a revenge period piece that gives us Tarantino’s take on the Manson family murders and an alternative ending to the bloody end of Hollywood’s Golden Age in August of 1969.

Overall rating: 3.5/5 stars

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is in theatres now.

Featured Image via Sony Pictures on The Hollywood Reporter

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Nadia is currently enrolled at Lakehead University and is taking courses in political science, economics and psychology. She enjoys theatre, thrift shopping and travelling.

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