A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
If there’s such a thing as a kindler, gentler Quentin Tarantino, his work is on display for much of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, a nostalgic tribute to the golden age of movies told through a first-time buddy-movie pairing of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, a who respectively play a fading movie star and his longtime stuntman in 1969 Hollywood. But always lurking in the shadows is bloody, gory Quentin Tarantino, and he comes out of hiding in brief but signature moments of excess. One Tarantino fan that I met, only because we were the last people out of the theater, gushed, “He did it again!”
Tarantino isn’t kinder or gentler enough to merit Dove approval, but if you’re a Tarantino fan, you probably didn’t expect he would. The language is coarse, the violence gruesomely over-the-top as we follow Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), who is making the unenviable transition from leading man in Westerns to the bad guy in shows that help establish rising stars’ bona fides. Dalton is a fading star who drinks too much, and we’re never sure which came first — did the drinking lead to the decline, or did the decline lead to the drinking? Either way, it hasn’t cost him his close friendship with Cliff Booth (Pitt), his laid-back stuntman who is “a little more than a buddy, a little less than a wife.”
Al Pacino is a pleasant surprise, playing a studio bigwig who suggests Dalton go make spaghetti Westerns in Italy as a vehicle to reclaim his previous A-list standing. Margot Robbie shines as Sharon Tate, the rising starlet who was murdered by Charles Manson and his followers on Aug. 9, 1969. Pitt has a memorable scene with Manson’s followers that’s kind of a showdown at the OK Corral, except he’s outnumbered 20-1.
The movie takes its viewers on a Forrest Gump-type ride, juxtaposing fiction over real-life footage right up to the early-morning hours of Aug. 9. I have a feeling Tarantino fans will treasure it, especially if he sticks to his oft-stated intention of making 10 films and then walking away. This is No. 9. Will he ever make one that Dove fans will approve? Not likely. But it doubtless will be one that is talked about for quite some time.