“The Mona Lisa”, by Leonardo da Vinci; “The Creation of Adam”; by Michelangelo. “Batman & Robin”; by Joel Schumacher; all masterpieces. Ok, maybe not that last one, but we have a new masterpiece on our hands as Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” was just released across North America, and while it isn’t necessarily a horror film (although Tarantino’s famous brutal violence can definitely leave a mark on viewers), it does involve Charles Manson within its storyline.
Hollywood; 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a famous Hollywood actor of the 50s and 60s who is slowly on the downhill of his career. He’s even lost his driver’s license after too many DUIs and it’s his personal stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who becomes his private chauffeur, in addition to already being his closest buddy and Dalton’s handyman around the house. Unsure about the future of his career or his own level of self-confidence, one thing Rick can always count on is that Cliff will be there to back him up; on and off the silver screen. He sure will need his support as he hesitantly embarks on a new movie project. In the meantime, we also follow the odd love triangle formed by Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), who happen to be Dalton’s neighbors. Meanwhile, a certain Charles Manson comes lurking around as Cliff comes across his hippie followers.
With a mix of pure magic from Tarantino and top-notch acting from a star-studded cast, “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” is a work of art on the big screen. As mentioned above, it is not a necessarily a horror movie per se, nor is it focused on Charles Manson (we pretty much only see him in one scene), but it does blend in a sense of tension and horrific anticipation within its comedy and drama.
Quentin Tarantino is at his best here, presenting his best piece of work, in my opinion, since his other masterpiece from 10 years ago: “Inglourious Basterds” (not that 2012’s “Django Unchained” wasn’t excellent, because it was. “Basterds” is just more of a masterpiece, personally). The scenery of Hollywood at the end of the 60s is breathtaking as much by its city as it is by its cars, the clothes, and the general attitude of its people. Every detail is gone over with a fine-tooth comb, even going so far as to making sure hippie teenagers still have some hair within their armpits. Tarantino’s one-of-a-kind style of long conversations is still often seen throughout the film, whether it be petty discussion, dialogue leading to essential information about the storyline, or direct narrating to the audience as the fourth wall is being broken. The camera angles are appealing; the soundtrack is 60ishly psychedelic; the storyline floats from one character to the other without creating boredom or repetition; and the lingering feeling of “the shit’s about to hit the fan” only grows in a crescendo of unease as we approach the grand finale.
DiCaprio and Pitt are sensational in their lead roles, and that word feels like it doesn’t pay enough respect to their performances in front of the camera. DiCaprio goes through every emotion throughout the film and delivers them brilliantly. Whether it be as an enraged monologue with himself, a heart-to-heart conversation with his best bud, or a genuine discussion with a young girl on the set of a movie, it’s so pleasant to have the privilege of seeing him back on the screen since his roles in “The Revenant” and “The Audition” back in 2015. Pitt was by far my favorite character in the film, despite every single one of them being incarnated phenomenally. His cool and suave demeanor transpired confidence and experience, even getting him into a fight with Bruce Lee. The way his character behaves with such modesty, conviction, and simplicity makes it impossible not to adore him. Plus, despite his 55 years of age, Pitt puts 30 year-olds’ bodies to shame with his impressive physique.
The rest of the cast drips in stardom, as well. Margot Robbie is as excellent as she is stunning in her role as Sharon Tate. She justly lives up to the beauty of Mrs. Tate and is truly lovable, without a mean bone in her body. She is especially adorable when showing such excitement as she witnesses moviegoers enjoying her performance at a screening of one of her own movies. Small roles by Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant (2010’s “The Crazies”), Luke Perry, Emile Hirsch (“The Autopsy of Jane Doe”), Michael Madsen (a usual in Tarantino’s films; “The Hateful Eight”, “Kill Bill Vol. 1”, “Reservoir Dogs”), and Lorenza Izzo (“The Green Inferno”) will only make your jaw keep dropping to the floor more and more as every actor is credible and enjoyable.
Without spoiling anything, the way real life events are re-imagined with his own Tarantino-flavor added to it, just like he did with Nazis and World War II in “Inglourious Basterds”, truly establishes Quentin Tarantino as a genius (not that he he hadn’t already done so in the past). As I watched the film and thought to myself “These other people in this theatre who don’t know the story of Charles Manson’s cult and Sharon Tate have no idea what’s in store for them”, the inevitable sense of uneasiness kept growing. That is, until you think you’ve figured it all out and Tarantino does what he does best: luring you in only to shock and entertain you even more. Despite being 2 hours and 41 minutes of running time, I would have watched this story keep developing and evolving for another 3 hours.
I don’t throw around perfect scores for movies a whole lot. The last time I did was twice, in 2016, for Sang Ho-Yeon’s “Train to Busan” and Denis Villeneuve’s “Arrival”. “Once Upon A Time In… Hollywood” is nothing short of a cinematic masterpiece in which everyone should definitely take the time to see in theatres as it deserves a perfect 10/10.
Article written by Simon Rother