A look at Once Upon A Time in Hollywood (MA 15+)
Not everyone is a fan of director Quentin Tarantino and his on-the-edge movies. But I am. I love his films.
How can you forget Pulp Fiction (perhaps his greatest), The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained, Jackie Brown (another classic) and the two Kill Bill epics? So with two hours 41 minutes ahead of you settle in for a look back at life in 1969 LA: hippies, clunky film sets, huge, long petrol-guzzling cars and plenty of smoking: cigarettes and joints.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is an almost-washed-up star of TV and movie westerns while his best buddy is his long-time stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). While Rick lives high in the Hollywood Hills, his driver Cliff has sunk pretty low and can only afford a trailer. What we’d call a caravan in Oz. It’s our narrator (Kurt Russell) who tells us that the Rick-Cliff friendship is “more than being just a buddy, but less than a wife.”
It’s the period in Hollywood history where the whole industry is about to be rocked by the brutal murder of pregnant starlet Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), coincidentally the next-door Cielo Drive neighbour of Rick. The Charles Manson family members are out and about a fair bit along the LA highways, but we don’t get much of a sighting of Manson himself (Damon Herriman) even when Tarantino takes us through the climactic scenes in the closing moments. Cliff actually visits the Manson family hideout at the remote Spahn ranch. He’s offered a lift to ‘Pussycat’ (Margaret Qualley), meets an old movie buddy at the ranch’s shack and then uses a bit of strong-arm tactics to force a male hippy, who’d stabbed a knife into his car’s front tyre, to replace it with the spare.
He’s quite handy with the fisticuffs is Cliff. He cleans up Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) in an actual fight on a movie set, catapulting the kick-boxing star into a stationary car. Rick, meanwhile, is busy rehearsing his lines for his next bit part with his tape recorder and considers making a spaghetti western in Italy.
After the stunning real-life successes of Clint Eastwood in Italy with director Sergio Leone, Rick is advised by an agent (Al Pacino) to have a crack. But he doesn’t depart immediately. He’s struck up a friendship with his eight-year-old co-star Trudi (Julia Butters) and they read together on the outside verandah between takes.
Sharon bops along to records in her Cielo Drive home and also at Hugh Hefner’s Playboy mansion where many Hollywood stars and starlets gather to party. She even hotfoots it to downtown LA to see her latest movie. The ticket girl doesn’t recognise her until she announces her name and then the theatre manager arrives and Sharon’s given a free ticket to see her own film.
But Tarantino re-writes history quite a bit – and sidesteps the Sharon Tate murder altogether – on the August night when the Manson family members show up in Cielo Drive. Cliff is just back in the house after taking pit bull Brandy for a walk, Rick is floating on a rubber-ducky in the pool with a headset on listening to music while the fading Western movie star’s new Italian wife is trying to sleep in her bedroom. Sharon is next door with three friends (which is historically accurate), oblivious of any impending hippy invasion.
Tarantino implored all writers and journos at the Cannes Film Festival in May where Once Upon A Time premiered not to spoil the huge surprise ending.
So I won’t either even though the film‘s been out quite a while now.
Suffice to say that not many of us would have a weapon like Rick’s in the garden shed. And he uses this monster to great effect on one of the murderous Manson Family members.