Quentin Tarantino’s latest film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was released this past week. After two eager visits to the theater, I caught what is one of his most carefully curated works that feeds into the irony of audience’s needs and expectations.
This film has a wonderful array of well written characters played by Hollywood’s best. Stars Margot Robbie, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Brad Pitt all give stellar performances of both real and fiction. It’s cameos of esteemed actors such as Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, Maya Hawke, Austin Butler, and Emile Hersch (who’s appearance sparked a well needed appreciation day for the one and only Speed Racer film) also round out the film very well. The film’s main focus is that of Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), a once famous television star struggling to find work alongside with his best friend/assistant/stuntman, Cliff Booth (Pitt). Paralleled with their lives is Sharon Tate (Robbie), a young actress just getting her start in Hollywood. Their lives never really overlap, or one may think.
It’s not that the plot of this film is lackluster, but I believe it works solely on the expectation that we are building up to see Sharon Tate be murdered. We are given glimpses of the Manson “family” and are shown their rationality of violence with justice, so the film does much of giving you the ending before the film has even started. You really feel the anguish deep in your heart when you see how wonderful a person Tate is; she gives rides to hitchhikers, and relishes the idea of people finding her talent as an up incomer. The energy Robbie gives in this film is absolutely electrifying. The entire viewing I was completely swept up in the sweetness that was Sharon Tate, and I dreaded her death in every passing moment.
To fill the plot (maybe a little more than necessary) we see the everyday lives of Rick and Cliff. Rick, who does his best on sets as the “heavy” for television shows, knows that his career is slowly coming to an end. Cliff on the other hand, enjoys his time with Rick even if it means kind of being his lackie. We are given wonderfully hilarious bits involving their on set attitudes that make the passage of time enjoyable.
But eventually, we reach the last 25 minutes. A moment with a surprising twist that makes this film so far worth every second. With the first viewing, I remember leaving theaters annoyed that the only action I saw was within those last waning minutes, but giving it a little less than a week, I found myself wanting to go back and experience that mundaneness once more. In all, Tarantino chooses and alternate reality, one his fans may be used to, one that includes justice. Instead of witnessing the grisley murder of a good and genuine person, we see a Tarantino breakdown of the enemy. His decision to brutally kill those who have brutally killed is satisfying and entertaining while also being guilt free. It didn’t really hit me the first time, but seeing a pregnant Sharon welcome Rick into her home after he and Cliff fought off the Manson children really made me cry. His ending was one of hope, and positivity. Thinking that all the people that actually died that night in 1969 actually had a chance to live their lives is something that truly warms my heart. In such a small moment, I felt a sense of security after two and a half hours of anxiety.
In all, Tarantino presented us with a film that garnered the need and expectation for violence, but even with a twist, he did not leave us unsatisfied. Also, not allowing Polanski or Manson to have much of any screen time or dialogue was a wonderful inclusion. Like many of Tarantino’s films, I believe that after viewing, it needs time to sit a marinate. That if given the right amount of thought, this film is perfect. It is entertaining, exciting, hilarious, and gory - all the makings of a Tarantino masterpiece.