Aoife Mawn reviews Quentin Tarantino's ninth film, Once Upon A Time..In Hollywood
It’s fair to say that expectation and hype for the new Tarantino flick has been at an all time high for a number of weeks now. In fact, since it’s conception was made public in 2017, people have been on tenterhooks waiting for the acclaimed, and often controversial directors ninth picture. This, paired with the public’s twisted fascination with the Manson family, particularly their murder of the pregnant film actress, Sharon Tate, combines to make the perfect recipe for a summer blockbuster.
The film centres around two antiheroes, Rick Dalton (Leonardo diCaprio), an ageing TV actor who has begun a descent into alcoholism and terrible, villainous roles, and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his moody, tagalong stuntman. The pair should be wholly unlikeable, yet, Booth’s dark past and cocky demeanour, and Dalton’s built up, learned arrogance team up to make us surprisingly sympathetic towards the pair, bumbling their way through the end of the 60’s, blissfully unaware of what is to come.
Dalton, bemoaning the end of his television heights, feels taunted as the director of the moment, Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) moves into the house next door, with his new wife and budding Hollywood starlet, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). They represent everything that is causing him pain; success, youth and adoration, none of which are on Dalton’s side. His agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), tries to convince him to move to Italy to try his hand at spaghetti Western’s, which Dalton sees as the true sign that he is at the end of his career. These troubles manifest in a crippling alcohol addiction, which only makes matters worse for Dalton.
While all of this is happening, Booth is cosying up to a young hitchhiker who continually catches his eye. When he finally picks her up, it is revealed she is a member of the Manson family, and Booth ends up back at the infamous Spahn ranch, which makes for one of the most tense sequences in recent cinematic memory, as well as being some of Pitt’s best work to date. In fact, Pitt is the standout star of the whole film, playing the war veteran Booth with such conviction and realness, it is easy to forget that he is just a character. Those saying this is the role of Pitt’s career are, at the very least, far from wrong. In the past, ironically, it has been Pitt’s good looks and charm that disguise how fantastic of an actor he is, but with OUATIH, there is none of this to hide behind. Booth is weathered and tired looking, and lacks any semblance of charm or endearment, yet Pitt still brings him to life in such a way as to make him an instantly iconic Tarantino character.
Many worried that Tarantino’s trademark goriness would cause the film to be insensitive to Manson’s victims, in particular to the family of Sharon Tate, who’s name and face have been used heavily in the marketing for the film. However, under the guidance of Tate’s sister (who insisted on the casting of Margot Robbie), Tarantino has crafted a masterpiece in storytelling, dancing around the vicious truth enough to pay respect to the victims and the truth, while also retaining his penchant for violence and outlandish plotlines. The cast is flawless, the set design is impeccable, and the story is ‘classic’ Tarantino enough to satisfy the die-hards, but ‘modern’ Tarantino enough to prevent backlash. He has created a masterpiece in Hollywood love letters, without submitting to the corniness or indulgence of his predecessors.