Director Quentin Tarantino’s highly-anticipated 9th film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is a fairy tale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age. The writer-director’s 9th film is set in an alternate timeline and is his take on the events that would lead up to the Manson murders. On a 90 million dollar budget, Tarantino was able to ensemble a cast that includes Leonardo Dicaprio Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Kurt Russell, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino and more. Spoilers after the trailer.
A Classy Reimagining
Back in 2017, the news first broke that Quentin Tarantino was going to write and direct a movie based on the Manson family murders and reader, I’m not going to lie this movie isn’t what I expected. Set in 1969, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood follows an aging television actor Rick Dalton (Brad Pitt) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as Dalton tries to make the transition from television to a successful film actor.
The relationship between Dalton and Booth is the most enjoyable part of the film. Rick Dalton is the former star of the hit show Bounty Law and now that his star is fading the only person who is there for him is Cliff Booth. Since Dalton isn’t acquiring roles like he used to, Booth isn’t getting much work as a stuntman in Hollywood and is regulated to doing odd jobs for Rick.
Dalton is typecast in Hollywood as the rugged badass, ironically, that is who Cliff Booth really is. In Hollywood circles, the powers that be do not want to work with Booth because they all believe he killed his wife after a domestic dispute. Thanks to his connections with Rick he gets added on to the stunt crew but that does not last long thanks to his altercation with legendary martial artist Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). Lee and Booth had a light sparring session to see who could knock the other one down to the ground 2 out of 3 falls style.
The inclusion of the scene will definitely split viewers because the way that Bruce Lee – the only character of color with a major role – is treated but it helps put Booth’s tough guy persona over for the viewer. Tarantino’s knack for writing keen dialogue also adds to the memorability of Booth and Lee’s confrontation.
Tarantino’s approach to Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is a complete 180 from Bruce Lee. She’s not given much dialogue in the film as the film chooses to mostly focus on a day of her life where she goes to the movies to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew.
Instead of re-enacting the scenes with Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate, Tarantino decided to play the original footage with the real-life Sharon Tate on the big screen. On one hand this lets the audience remember her as a person instead of in the context of the tragic events that took her life. On the other hand, Margot does look like Sharon Tate but when you show footage of the real Sharon Tate it takes you out of the film.
Small Roles, Big Show
With such a large ensemble cast that’s filled with veteran actors and Oscar winners from start to finish, there were a few performances from actors who weren’t as experienced that maximized their screen time to create something memorable. Other real-life characters portrayed by accomplished actors include Red (Dakota Fanning) who has a sinister stare; George Spahn (Bruce Dern) is a blind cranky old man; and Dalton’s agent Hollywood producer Marvin Scwhartz (Al Pacino).
Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) was a character who was created specifically for this film. She’s a member of the Manson Family and Qualley does a good job at portraying the characters mysteriousness. Having Pussycat hitch a ride with Tate was a nice red-herring by Tarantino. Qualley shares most of her screentime with Brad Pitt and she holds her own with the veteran actor as the pair flowed off each other very well.
Qualley wasn’t the only actress to have made the most out of her appearance in the film, 10 year-old child actor Julia Butters was spectacular as Trudi Fraser. Trudi is another original character for the film and she’s Rick Dalton’s co-star on the set of Lancer. She holds her own with DiCaprio and there is a tense scene between the two while filming Lancer.
If it wasn’t for the final confrontation during the film’s third act, Julia Butters would’ve had my top pick for breakout performance but I have to give that to Mikey Madison’s portrayal of Sadie. Madison has about 5 minutes of screentime and maybe 4 lines of dialogue that doesn’t include her screaming but she has one of my favorite scenes in the film. After their altercation with Rick Dalton, Katie (Madisen Beaty), Tex (Austin Butler) and Sadie decided to kill him instead of Sharon Tate. The way that Madison portrays Sadie as this delusional egocentric psychic is how I imagine the real life Susan “Sadie” Atkins was.
Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood is another welcoming addition to legendary director Quentin Tarantino’s filmography. As a director this film is Tarantino at his best. There are interesting and beautiful shot compositions throughout the film. However, as a writer there is a sense of wishing there was more things happening in the film. As a narrative thread, the relationship between Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth is what carries the movie through its 2 hour and 45 minute runtime. Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio have amazing performances that should get both of them some nominations come Oscar season. Nine films down and it will be interesting to see what Quentin has in store for Hollywood and the world whenever he releases film number 10.
[All Mames Wey]
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was released in theaters July 26, 2019.
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