Tarantino is the master of pastiche. He conquered recapturing periods of time over a career of filmmaking which is concentrated on amplifying lifestyles within those periods. Tarantino sinks his characters into this exaggerated setting and it sanctifies them, setting them apart in a world we already somewhat know, allowing us to see their humane qualities in contexts so far removed. It is fantastic storytelling and usually undeniably great. It is pastiche insofar as Tarantino purposely steps into a period and processes them through a hysteria we have come to expect in his films. Whether it is a time frame, 70s, 80s, 1800s, Tarantino knows what to intensify and expose in order to trigger his audience through his content. Though his filmmaking shows he merely loves piecing together a perspective away from the reality of what he builds his story upon.
Considering this, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is created to this very same taste. At some points it lacks the finesse a goal within the plot would add. However, this film is captivating as a journey. To summarise it briefly the film is about famed actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double/longtime and best friend Cliff (Brad Pitt) coming to terms with his spiraling career. The film starts at the end of Rick’s stint of popularity with the film highlighting where they live, Cielo Drive – the infamous address of the Tate murders. The two, Rick and Cliff, have clearly worked together for an extremely long time.
We see highlights of their career together, and we meet them in conversation regarding these experiences. Tarantino is notable for his appreciation of film, filmmaking, and Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a projection of the process of making a picture back in the day. It teaches you about growing perspectives within Hollywood, how people viewed acting, purposefully done as it acts as evident marks of change in contrast to today’s industry, and an overseeing narrator interjects to spell out why. I also appreciated the sound effects of dread plucked from the age-old film. The filming techniques, visual style, the sound and entirety of the 60s heading into the 70s can be witnessed in the film.
The actors were brilliant and engaging, seamlessly blending 3 characters at times as they acted, as acts, on set and off set. Even within that, there is Pastiche, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s favourite performance of mine is Catch Me If You Can where he stars as Frank Abignale Jr. He acts as a fraudster, who has to pitch himself into every situation. It is a fantastic film, as you watch him assume so many roles and situations. Based on a true story too. He is the most outstanding actor to me as he effortlessly changes his role throughout Once Upto A Time In Hollywood. His range of acting is touched upon again, but Rick Dalton himself is a loveable character. You can tell by the actors it is as if they’re working in their own experiences, such as Rick meeting Lancer lead James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant) while working on the shows Pilot. Leonardo plays this so well, and the entirety of his work on this Pilot episode captures the stakes.
In conversation with Trudi (Julia Butters) Rick also has to acknowledge the lifestyle changes needed in order to become the most outstanding actor. She reminds him of the honest approach to preparation, and in this, he realises where he has personally gone wrong. The roles in which the actors play leaves a lasting impression on their career, it shows the actors had to be much more considerate of what was to come over what they were doing.
Cliff (Brad Pitt) and Rick’s relationship was beautiful to see, it was very assuring knowing he had such a mighty man have his back. Though Cliff represents the side piece, an extra if you will, as the stunt double of Rick. He lingers on the edges of the Hollywood lifestyle by working as a handyman, a driver and voice of reason in Rick’s forgetful greatness in his career. You want to support him and Rick through their trials and tribulations, but this is where Tarantino leads you on and implements the factors of behaviour and acceptance within the period. Such as Cliff and the issues he had with his ex-wife, which is skimmed over in whole, and his enticement by youthful-looking women. It’s a mark of the times, and he is a War Hero after all – hence some of his behaviour is justifiable, it would seem.
Cliff seems a character that was added almost as a what-if, clearly exaggerated like with the friendly competition he has with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), and is the highlight of a Tarantino flick for me. Cliff is the most sanctified character in that sense, everything else is not so far from imagination. Although, Shannon Lee the daughter of Bruce Lee was clearly incensed by her father’s depiction. She stated it was not right for him to be captured in a way white Hollywood attempted to when he was alive, for he was a teacher, martial artist, philosopher, actor, director – much more than an egotistical fighter. He was reduced to a babbling braggadocious know it all, but also Sharon Tate’s (Margot Robbie) martial arts teacher and a feature of the late 60s in Hollywood. The film is studded with many appearances of late, old actors and types of films. Like The F.B.I, and Lancer, as well as renditions of Spaghetti Westerns – notable for their odd production tastes.
Margot Robbie is truly beautiful, as was Sharon Tate, and her interjection in the film is well worked. The Spahn Ranch just so happened to be a location of the old Westerns Rick and Cliff used to film, and Roman Polanski moved in with his wife Sharon Tate next door. Tate’s inclusion for me showed another facet of Hollywood then, the youthful opportune and elite of the period. In contrast to Rick’s adventurous career, Tate’s seemed on the brink of stardom especially by those who she surrounded themselves by. She was in with the likes of Bruce and the revered directors like her husband, and I feel Tarantino included her as a neat juxtaposition. Within the film, Rick made the statement that being in Hollywood means owning a home and staying there. The film blends old content with new and takes a Tarantino esque interpretation of the tragic events of the Tate murders.
In summary, the film is captivating. I was glued to it and wanted more content, a film about film and TV acting, a film about the early reaches of Hollywood that makes you think of how interconnected such experiences were. It upholds themes of Tarantino’s great movies and compacts them into this film, though with minimal action Tarantino does very well to engage the audience with content so distant and foreign from our own and today. This is what makes it all the more fascinating.
Rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Runtime: 2H 40M
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Production Company: Columbia Pictures, Bona Film Group, Heyday Films, Visiona Romantica