Oh, Quentin Tarantino. One of the most well read directors in Hollywood is always giving his own spin on history. Just like ‘Inglorious Basterds’, his new film puts a twist on actual events. On the upside, ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ does it in spectacularly good fashion.
The film takes place in 1969 when old westerns were losing their popularity and Sharon Tate was still alive and well. Enter Rick Dalton (Leo Dicaprio) and his out of work stunt man Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt in the best shape of his life). Rick is a relic in acting terms and feeling the uselessness of aging out of your profession has taken its toll. Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and her husband, Roman Polanski, are living the highlife as Ricks neighbors. Rick watches his famous neighbors with a bit of star struck envy.
Meanwhile, Charles Manson and his cult of loyal female followers pop up here and there until Cliff finally makes his way out to the ranch they call home. While Manson himself only makes an appearance in one scene, his ladies are front and center. The sequence with Brad Pitt on that ranch proves that Tarantino needs to make a real horror movie. Yes, ‘Death Proof’ exists but it is more action than horror. On that ranch, Tarantino builds great tension that serves as much importance as his characters.
The film is surprisingly nonviolent until the third act. Under the narration of Kurt Russell, the third act brings Manson’s followers to Cielo Drive. Not for a pregnant Sharon Tate and her unsuspecting friends, but for Cliff and Rick who are both several shades of drunk and high. I won’t spill the details, but I will say that the violence that Cliff and Rick unleash on Manson’s followers is epic. That sequence also gets the award for best use of a flame thrower.
Tarantino can really be hit or miss for me, but this one ranks with the best of them. See it, if for no other reason than Margot Robbie’s incandescent performance. She doesn’t say much, but her performance says more than words can say.
Just for kicks, here is my ranking of Tarantino’s films from my own tastes:
- Kill Bill
- Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
- Django Unchained
- Death Proof
- Pulp Fiction (It would be higher if it was only the sequence with Uma and John Travolta)
- Reservoir Dogs
- Inglourious Basterds
- Jackie Brown
- The Hateful Eight (the prime example of a director not knowing when to edit things down from an unwatchable mess)