It’s a dark fairy tale of the recent past, and it’s one of Quentin Tarantino’s best films. Not yet ready for theatres but recently being seen publicly at the Cannes film festival, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the story of a waning television actor and his stuntman friend who try to make it big in Hollywood in 1969. Not only is Hollywood rapidly changing, but the world is quickly changing as well, and a couple of not very young men will have to either make it or fail in a new world. If you have some interest in the time period, and of the city of Los Angeles you are likely to love it. At the time, popular culture was very different – if you were to miss a film in theatres, you might never have the opportunity to see it at all.
Once upon a time in Hollywood is also the story of the actress Sharon Tate, a victim of the Manson family murders that are still infamous after fifty years. Both the dark side and the bright side of the late sixties are explored in depth here. Tarantino’s last film, the hateful eight, was both slow-paced and particularly violent, a torture horror movie pretending to have artistic merit, this is a big step up from that and is as good as Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is certainly also a very violent film, but one would not argue that it has little going for it besides gore and cruelty. While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is as entertaining to a younger audience as to an older one, it is full of pop culture references that only an older viewer is likely to understand.
All of Tarantino’s films have interesting characters, including his least watchable films, and this is no exception to the rule. Leonardo Dicaprio plays fifties TV star Rick Dalton, and Brad Pitt plays stuntman Cliff Booth, best friends doing what they can to not let their careers wither away too early. The stuntman seems to have a better life than the actor, but sometimes still resents him due to Dalton’s greater fame. Over time the two of them are drawn into the sinister side of the often romanticized era, encountering doomed characters that associate with the madman Charles Manson. Is the sixties Los Angeles realistic, or it is a romantic fantasy? The city manages to be both at once, drawing the audience into the myth of another time without inaccurately representing the past. Cinematographer Robert Richardson, a Tarantino favorite, was able to create an exceptionally well-shot film.
Tarantino has said that this might be his second last film. He may seem too young to retire, but perhaps he wants to quit while he is still at the top of his game and before he becomes a laughable has-been. If his next film after Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will be his last, at least people will go into his final film with high expectations. The loved and hated director has proven that he is still at the top of his career, and has not become a has-been already. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will hit American theatres on July 26th, perhaps in a cut somewhat different from what audiences were impressed by at Cannes.