Storytelling is essential to every film. For director Quentin Tarantino, storytelling goes far beyond words on a page, and that is on display in the film Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood.
Tarantino has garnered a reputation in Hollywood for creating original content amid a flurry of sequels and reboots. And in his original content, there is definitely a very distinct look, feel and sound as Tarantino harkens back to filmmaking of old.
In Once Upon a Time, Tarantino goes back to 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an actor known for his roles as a bad guy. Dalton is working in Hollywood, and that is a good thing for any actor. He is inseparable from stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his stunt double, who even drives him to the set, as Rick’s license has been suspended due to his past drunk driving convictions. With Cliff needing Rick to pay his bills, the friendship is essential.
In movie and television roles from Hollywood to Italy, Rick is in front of the camera just trying to be liked, using Cliff’s advice to survive the maddening world of show business. As Rick ages, he wants more than to just be the bad guy who people remember getting attacked, and he tries to get to that happy place.
All around him, Hollywood is churning out projects. His neighbors are none other than Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). A cavalcade of other celebs have visited the couple, but despite living next door, Rick has never even said hello.
In Once Upon a Time, we get a story with names we know that couples reality with a kind of “what if” phenomenon. There are so many people doing their thing in Hollywood that it seems a wink here, a reality check there, and everything around them can change, or not.
I shuddered when Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) came face-to-face with the screen. I reacted with equal disdain for Squeaky Fromme (Dakota Fanning) and other members of the Manson family.
I felt a bit of glee watching Tate as she viewed one of her films, The Wrecking Crew, with an audience. After she talked her way into the theater, she smiled like a kid when the audience laughed at her onscreen antics, and you could feel the pleasure she took from experiencing the picture with an audience who responded. It was the biggest smile on my face in the movie.
The film can be uneasy and rough at times, as the suspense and violence surrounding the Spahn Ranch and the Manson family who lived there remind you, in case you could forget, that this is all a Tarantino film and violent sequences are, well, very violent.
Although I liked Tarantino’s film, I’m not in the category of “adore it.” It’s a bit long and a bit scattered at times, but that is his style. Are those idiosyncrasies good? Sometimes yes, sometimes I think the film could use some simple touch-ups.
Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood is available On Demand and on DVD beginning Dec. 10. Check your cable system for availability.