Hollywood. 1969. One time popular movie star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) sees his fame starting to flicker out he is forced to take less than appealing TV jobs to maintain his image. Accompanied by his stunt-double and best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), the two travel and work across Hollywood, seeing the culture and industry change all the while. Booth is intrigued by a small cult housing at his former studio of Spahn Ranch, led by a man known as “Charlie”. All these figures, including film star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), will come together as paths cross in this raw fairy-tale within the industry…
One of the few films in the current nine from director Quentin Tarantino that avoids genre-mashing homages and instead focuses on one almost-linear genre and story. A love-letter to the golden-age of Hollywood that witnessed great change, investment and tragedy.
If you don’t know the story of either Charles Manson or Sharon Tate, you will leave the film accepting all as is. However this is, as the title suggests, an ideal fairy-tale fronted by two fictional characters, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, but surrounded by real figures of the time including Manson, Steve McQueen, Roman Polanski, Bruce Lee and more.
Clocking in at just over 2hrs 30mins, Tarantino stretches his story over many long, establishing scenes and conversations. To be fair, this isn’t a bad thing as we get to soak in the faithful locations in a sun-baked Los Angeles and tap along to the ever-constant radio shows playing music and adverts of the time. The film is nothing but immersive, and you will be hard-pressed not to enjoy this slice of nostalgia, even if you weren’t around at the time.
From our three leads, Pitt is the most watchable. He’s firing at the top of his game here in all ways, from physical to vocal and emotional. He is a real smoldering talent, one you can’t fail to like here and enjoy his story the most, be it encountering the Manson family or beating down Mike Moh’s Bruce Lee. Pitt looks great and is the grounding force. DiCaprio is the washed-up actor doing anything and everything to find his place as the industry changes around him, and while his story takes a long time to really get going and resolve, he’s having fun drinking on the rocks, hamming it up in a host of Western movies, secret agent spoofs and a “great escape” war movie whilst trying to regain his star quality. DiCaprio and Pitt know their material, and they give it their all and make watching the two of them totally entertaining.
Backed up by appearances by the likes of veterans Al Pacino, Bruce Dern and Kurt Russell to name just a few who add and throw curve-balls into the story with their plot points and interactions, it’s Margot Robbie here who seems to be wasted. She ambles, dances and dreams along, popping up now and then to remind you of the “era” we are in, saying little and doing little else. Only towards the end does she get more lines of dialogue, and even that isn’t anything different from what she says anyway. It’s a casting that baffles me, bar the looks matching the real-life Tate, she brings little else to this role.
The violence is fleeting, but Tarantino gives up holding back for the fairy-tale climax and goes all out with brutal fights, flamethrowers and smashed faces. But, what else did you expect from the man who gave us films like ‘Reservoir Dogs’ or ‘Django Unchained’?
A gentle paced, long but immersive film that is worth a watch when it’s brought to the screen by an undeniable talented cast and crew.
Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Scr: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Leonard DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern
Prd: Quentin Tarantino, David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh
DoP: Robert Richardson
Run time: 160 minutes
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is out now to buy on digital, DVD and Blu-ray.