Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie) – Every Quentin Tarantino film evokes powerful reactions from moviegoers. Love him or hate him, Tarantino always pushes the boundaries. His films are always creative, beautifully photographed, impeccably researched, and violent.
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is a period piece but, more than that, it’s nostalgic. If American Graffiti transported you back to your high school years, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood drops you right back into 1969, one of the most pivotal years in modern history.
Set in this backdrop is the buddy story of actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stand-in Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick was the star of action movies and then a TV show in the ‘50s who now guest stars as “the heavy” on all of the most popular TV shows of today. We get to see clips of shows like Mannix and The FBI and hear music from Neil Diamond to hard rock. Plus, we get to go to the Playboy Mansion and meet some of the biggest stars of the day, like Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis in a totally unrecognizable cameo) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).
Rick’s career is fading; Cliff is basically his go-for, chauffer and companion. As the parts dry up, Rick reconciles himself to go overseas to star in Italian “Spaghetti” westerns, a gig his manager/agent Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino) tells him is his last chance at stardom.
Meanwhile, Cliff picks up a stray hippie girl who hangs out at the site of the old Spahn Ranch, which often served as a movie set in the good-old days. It is here that he has an uncomfortable reunion with George Spahn (Bruce Dern), the guy who owns the ranch, and ends up fighting with one of the few dudes at the ranch.
This seeming diversion in the buddy film sets up the climax of the movie. Rick returns to his home in the Hollywood hills from Italy with a wife in tow, tells Cliff that their days as partners are ostensibly over, and the calendar turns to August 9, 1969, the date that Charles Manson’s gang killed Tate and others. But this is a Hollywood fairy tale, not history. The final scenes are fun, violent, and vintage Tarantino.
To those who skip Tarantino films because of the violence, don’t worry. This isn’t violent until the end and, by then, it is almost comical. For those who skip his movies because they are weird, go anyway because this one is so nostalgic that it is totally absorbing. At two-hours-and-40-minutes, it’s long but not boring.
Leo and Brad are exceptional right up to the “cookie” during the credits. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood had the biggest opening weekend ever for a Tarantino film, and it deserves it. While I try to convince my wife to see it, make sure you head to the theater soon to re-live 1969.