So I just watched Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, and if you’re wondering why I’m this late with the review, it’s because good films release about 3 weeks late in India, and honestly, nobody knows why. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is acclaimed director Quentin Tarantino’s 9th film (if you count both Kill Bill’s as one) and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie. The film tells the story of a slowly degrading Rick Dalton, whose hurtling towards the end of his career. His stunt double, Cliff Booth and his next-door neighbour Sharon Tate make up the triumvirate. These 3 characters perfectly portray the 3 levels of fame found in Hollywood. The rising star, the old-timer and the unsung hero. The film is set in 1969, during the height of the hippy culture in Hollywood.
If you haven’t seen it yet, go watch it. This is your spoiler alert. Jump to the last paragraph for a conclusion.
Quentin Tarantino. Where to start with him? He’s one of the few directors in the industry who’s able to draw in audiences just because he’s associated with the film. Not many directors have this level of star power that is commonly associated with film stars. If you follow Quentin, you’ll know that he only plans to make 10 movies and it looks like we’re hitting the end of the road. So how did his 9th film compare to his others? After I watched the movie, my friend asked me what genre the film was. If you’ve seen this movie or any other Tarantino movie, you’ll understand how difficult that question is to answer. In a sense, Tarantino is a director whose films can only be described as Tarantino films, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is as Tarantino as it comes.
Before walking into the theatre, I found out from interviews and such that the film revolved around Sharon Tate, and that Charles Manson was going to be in it. For anyone who doesn’t know, Charles Manson was the leader of a cult infamously known as The Manson Family. He was responsible for planning the brutal murder of Sharon Tate and many others in Los Angeles. So I went in expecting Margot Robbie’s character to die somewhere towards the third act of the film. However, as we know, Tarantino has no trouble changing the past (he literally killed off Hitler in Inglorious Basterds) and I think it’s arguable that he’s done it again.
The three people who were sent to Rick Dalton’s house were Tex and three other girls. In real life? Sharon Tate’s murderer’s names were Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian, Patricia Krenwinkel and, you guessed it, Tex Watson. This means that in the Quentin Tarantino universe, Sharon Tate doesn’t actually die, as her killers were ripped and burned to shreds in the previous house. And Hollywood is much better off for it.
Another scene which is an ode to history was the long and excruciatingly tense Spahn Ranch scene. As if it wasn’t tense already, the reason that the whole scene is even more hard to watch? Spahn Ranch was the location of the murder of a stunt double named Donald Shea in the very same year. So anyone who read up or knew anything about the case would have thought Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth was going to die. Very subtle Tarantino.
OK. Enough about the history, how was the actual FILM? How can I put it simply? Was it Tarantino’s best work? No. Not by a long shot. I wouldn’t even say top three. Was it better than most of the movies coming out these days? Yes. Absolutely. The film was an homage to Hollywood of the past, and you can see how much the setting meant to Tarantino. He does an excellent job of transforming the sets into that of the Hollywood he remembers as a child, and it’s beautiful. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood gives the modern audience a glimpse of how movie and television ruled the lives of the common folk in this golden age of Hollywood.
Everything that we’ve come to expect from a Quentin Tarantino film is present in this film. The screenplay is humorous, tense and engaging. The soundtrack breaths 60’s and my god, the acting. I don’t think we’ll ever get to see another movie where two of the hottest actors in Hollywood play best friends. I’d pay double this money to watch their bromance alone. Leonardo DiCaprio was insane as a ‘soon to be old timer’ and his freakout scenes were stunning. Brad Pitt made me laugh more times than I would have imagined. His last fight scene and that acid trip, I was in tears. Margot Robbie was in the movie way less than I had imagined. To people who don’t know about the Manson Murders, her inclusion might have seemed unnecessary. In a sense, the story is less about Sharon Tate, who I think is just there to add tension. But, there’s no denying that it works.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is mostly just a bunch of scenes about film and the making of films. The entire plot of the movie can be read out in two lines, which is great because it gives Tarantino time to take it slow and give us small pleasures like watching Brad Pitt fight Bruce Lee. The whole film just teases us with what we expect to come, and when it didn’t, I was slightly disappointed in the theatre. I walked out thinking, why didn’t they show the actual murder. Slowly, it dawned on me that it was actually better this way. Quentin knows best and this is a prime example.
The violence in this movie is so good, because the build-up to it, is just amazing. Those five minutes of Brad Pitt and his dog beating up the Manson murderers was pure art. Everyone in the theatre was laughing, myself included. Also, there was something therapeutic watching Brad Pitt hit that girl’s face against, well everything. After the scene, the guy sitting next to me whispered to himself, “I was waiting for that”. We all were.
A special shout-out to the Indian Censor Board who decided that they would only censor half the swear words, and they would choose which ones to censor by throwing darts at a board. Also, thank you for censoring the names on all the alcohol bottles. It really added to the immersion of the film.
So to recap, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is definitely a fun time at the theatres transporting you to 1969, where it perfectly showcases the magic of cinema. The dialogue is snappy, the action is smooth, the soundtrack is hot and the acting is sublime. Watch it if you are a Tarantino, DiCaprio or Brad Pitt fan. Watch it even if you aren’t, the film will grow on you. Special note: Try and do a little bit of research on the Manson murders before you go in, it really adds to the whole experience.