Quentin Tarantino has asked reviewers not to spoil it for those who haven’t seen it. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood focuses on three main characters. Two are fictitious; Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an aging film star watching his career get downsized to guest roles on TV, and Brad Pitt who plays Rick’s best friend and former stuntman Cliff Booth. The third is Sharon Tate, and although she was a real person, she has become a part of Hollywood legend, and is, thus, portrayed as ethereal – a kind of painted memory that gives the film a nostalgic glow.
Dalton and Booth make unlikely BFFs. Dalton is keenly aware that his best days as an actor are probably behind him, he complains loudly, drinks heavily, and worries as he struggles to figure out his next move in life. Booth lives in a trailer (a far cry from Dalton’s movie star home), he’s laid-back, accepting of his life, harbors a dark past and is deadly in a fight. A significant part of the film takes place on a weekend in February, 1969, following the main characters separately. Through the events of the weekend each gains perspective on their lives and careers. Dalton is filming another “bad-guy” part – the kind of role his agent warns him is a fast track to the demise of his career. Booth has a fateful encounter with an underage hippie girl whose path he’s been on the verge of crossing several times through the course of the film.
Sharon Tate wanders past a movie theater playing her latest film, she steps inside and as she takes in the film her face is lit up with awe and happiness. Tate represents the enthusiasm of youth, with a lifetime of possibility that lies ahead, although the viewer knows that ultimately her life was cut short. Dalton and Booth are looking back on their lives, wondering if they missed opportunities, and worrying whether or not they still have possibilities.
It isn’t a leap to imagine how Tarantino, as the director, relates to the middle-aged characters in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, his first mature film. But there are several places where events in this film intersect with the current landscape of change. One is Hollywood’s struggle to continue to exist while facing digital platforms, 1969 saw the Hollywood studio system crash, and give way to the more personal, DIY cinema of the early seventies. Because Tarantino has specifically asked reviewers not to say anything that would spoil the film for first time viewers any events in the final act of the film are not discussed here. The film is a memory of a time and place, and our memories are cinematic. This film likely warrants multiple viewings, to peel back it’s many layers, and for another episode of pure cinematic pleasure.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie playing at GQT Quality 16, Michigan Theater, Ann Arbor 20,