So as Quentin Tarantino rumbles toward his inevitable, self imposed retirement, his ninth and penultimate movie touches down in cinemas with a hefty running time and a slight shift in focus for Hollywood’s favorite cinephile. In a way, all of Tarantino’s films are movies about movies with his constant repurposing and reshaping of existing scenes, genres and images for his own, repeatedly iconic ends but this is the first time he’s made a movie ABOUT movies and he’s not holding back.
It’s 1969 in Tinsel Town and Tarantino’s twisty tale focuses on a trio of characters all at different phases in their careers. The first is Rick Dalton, one time swinging dick of the smash 50’s TV Western Bounty Law who, after being taken unawares by the changing status quo finds his star on the wane and is reduced to taking villain of the week roles is such shows as FBI and Lancer. Resistant to the approaches of an Italian producer who wants to sign him up to a multiple picture contract that includes some spaghetti westerns it dawns on him that his career may finally be over so he turns to his stuntman-turned-gopher friend Cliff Booth for comfort.
Cliff is an ex Green Beret suffering being blackballed by the industry after his wife’s questionable death and who’s been living out of Rick’s back pocket ever since. After being thrown off set for picking a fight with Bruce Lee on the backlot of The Green Hornet, Booth meets picks up a hitchhiker while doing errands for his friend/boss and drives her to her home at the closed down studio Spahn Ranch, current home to the one and only Manson family. After having an altercation with the infamous cult (trouble follows him around like a lonely puppy), Cliff has to reassess his professional and personal life with Rick as his friend’s career goes sideways.
Our third and final character is Sharon Tate, critical darling, wife to Roman Polanski (super hot after just directing Rosemary’s Baby) and Rick Dalton’s next door neighbour. We follow her as she breezes through town, charming her way into a screening of a movie she’s in so she can enjoy the audience’s reaction and generally being a radiant ray of sunshine.
After following these three characters through 48 hours of their lives we bounce forward six months (in true Tarantino style) to that fateful night when three members of Charles Manson’s “family” headed up the drive of Polanski and Tate’s house with murder on their mind.
Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is Quentin in a slightly different gear than we’re used to after spending time on more “fanciful” genres like War film and his two cracks at the Western. Here he takes more of a James Ellory approach, inter twining fact and fiction as characters he’s created rub shoulders with the Hollywood elite (say hello to Damien Lewis as Steve McQueen) and warps real life much the same as he did in Inglorious Bastards. This is a more sedate Tarantino than we’re used to, more interested in the minutiae of the lives of his impeccable leads, with his outbursts of trademark extreme farcical violence saved for the energetic final 20 minutes. Long scenes are dedicated to DiCaprio’s Dalton acting out whole scenes, trying to keep his massively growing insecurities in check but thankfully the cast is more up to the challenge. Brad Pitt is an amiable, swaggering good old boy while Margot Robbie glows as a more of a idealised sketch of Tate, but it’s Leo who powers through his character who’s delicate ego constantly totters on the brink of collapse.
While not perfect OUATIH is great fun but be warned, it has a similar run time to The Hateful Eight and Tarantino is in no rush to skim through his tale, going as far to explain in great detail things like the phenomenon of second rate actors heading off to Italy to score leading roles in cheapo knock offs. In fact a point could be made that this is the director at his most confident, puppeteering reality to fit his vision and certainly rumblings of controversy has reared it’s head but then again, this is a filmmaker who had Hitler repeatedly machine gunned in the face, any surprises he has in store should be expected and embraced. After all, as the title suggests, it’s only a fairytale.
One to go Quentin. Keep ’em coming.