Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★

Quentin Tarantino has often fetishized other movies, invoking their presence, but finds himself transcending pure imitation. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one such occasion, a film that not only evokes an era, but celebrates the fantasies of that past. It is the story of a moment, a vision through the eyes of Tarantino, and the many moments that were his childhood. This is a Los Angeles viewed through the eyes of his upbringing, with every street corner, ice cream parlor, movie theater, crafted to match the 1969 that Tarantino viewed.

For a while, you don't get a feeling for this film's existence. It is a series of extended story lines that have no legitimate purpose or reason for being. We follow Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), a self-destructive paranoid fading TV star and Cliff Booth (Pitt), his confidante, driver, bodyguard, drinking buddy, and only friend. The third, and much lesser character here is Sharon Tate (Robbie), whose eventual fate we all know of, who is wide-eyed at watching herself on screen and making it big in Hollywood.

Missing here, however is the dialogue that is so revered, and is often the talking point of his movies. There is no macho back and forth, the tension, or the casual repartee. Tarantino, for what seems like the first time, restrains himself from the dialogue and allows for more character introspection. In possibly the film's strongest arc, Rick plays a villain on a TV western, who finds himself on the receiving end of life advice from a child actress. He begins forgetting lines during the scene and uncomfortable being unrecognizable on the screen. Soon after, he screams at himself in his trailer, kicks around his table, and starts breaking things. It's played for comedy, but it’s Rick's insecurities and his inability to let go of the past that form the crux of this film. Equally as compelling, is the scene at Spahn Ranch, where Pitt's Booth is lured by one of Manson's "girls", only to find himself in the middle of the cult. Unaware of the danger, he wanders to seek out on old friend. There is palpable tension and pace to this scene, an immediacy, something lacking in the first half of the film.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was meant to be a tribute to the life of Sharon Tate, but her inclusion in the film, never really does her story justice. She is nothing more than a human representation of the feeling Tarantino wants to evoke, a brighter, hopeful, optimistic Hollywood in the face of the 60's counterculture movement. She lacks the depth of the two male leads, and it is a shame that a film essentially about her is resorted to focusing on the male leads. Tarantino's films have always been about the past, something that came before, a time, a story, an era, or even films, but in Once Upon a Time.., he captures a moment and the film's brutal climax ends that fantasy.

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