In one of the scenes in “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood”, a fading Hollywood star Rick Dalton comes out of his house shouting and blaring at a noisy Cadillac parked outside his home. He has a half done Margarita in his hand and he remarks, “ Get Off My Road you people, You Dennis Hopper people”. The car which has the Manson cult gang in it, scurries away in fear. The image is a grim reminder of the kind of hatred and wrath the Hippies movement faced in the late 1960’s. It also sets up the world of 1960’s Hollywood. The industry is trying to build a new voice but doesn’t accept any fresh/new ideas at the same time.
The Idea of “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”
In his 9th Film, Quentin Tarantino chronicles the love-hate relationship between actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). As Rick struggles to rebuild his career which has faded and also battles his personal demons, Cliff is with him every step of the way as the lovable, affable and highly resourceful man Friday. In the same neighborhood, upcoming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) moves in with her husband Roman Polanski. The film in a very detailed way describes the journey of Rick as a fading and yet relevant star but also plays up on the many interesting people he meets to enhance his career. Sharon Tate also is building up her career and with her high profile marriage to Polanski, she is poised to build her career further. The story revolves around these lives and shows the events of 7th,8th, 9th August 1969. Its Tarantino’s version on how the Manson murders played out. OUATIH is also a tribute to the city Of Los Angeles which features as the backdrop of the story in the movie.
The Look and Feel of 1960’s Hollywood and Building of the stardom of Rick Dalton
Tarantino has gone into exhaustive details for providing an authentic look of the 1960’s. He has put in a lot of popular culture references to make Rick Dalton look authentic and real. The fact that Cliff follows Dalton everywhere as he is his stuntman, amplifies the story telling by using two huge stars to power just one. The Spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone are stealing the limelight and Rick Dalton wants a piece of it as his show “Bounty Law” was similar. There are beautiful shots taken all over the studios where most of the sets of the Westerns are built. Each movie Rick Dalton stars has its unique posters in it. They even have a movie in which Dalton stars with Telly Savalas. Tarantino uses famous actors of the era to interact with Dalton and Booth. They have a full sequence where Booth has a verbal and physical duel with Bruce Lee on the sets of “The Green Hornet”. Lee here is made to look arrogant and impractical for some reason. Actor Mike Mo looks very much like Lee.
The film also showcases a party at “The Playboy Mansion” and shows the swinging sixties like never before. There, everybody is high on every kind of drug available- acid cigarettes, speedballs, cocaine is available on the streets. The party shows legendary actor Steve McQueen gossiping about Sharon Tate and her string of lovers. Tarantino like his other films builds on his version of history to juice up the narrative.
While Hollywood is all money and fame, the story also looks at the living conditions of Charlie Manson and others who signify the hippie movement. The funny part is that the crowd on Beverly Hills uses the same drugs and substances as people like Manson. There is a concerted effort to show this class divide in the entertainment industry.
The production design is just fabulous. Whether it is the cans of Dog food (this is very important in the climax), the printed shirts , the black and white television sets, the ranch of the Mansons, the costumes, the restaurants, the cinema theatres takes the viewer literally to the 1960’s. The fact that the story spans just 3 days, makes it even more engrossing.
The Sharon Tate Factor
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate is the semi swing factor in the film. Tarantino goes ahead and makes her look “ripe” for jealousy and hatred in the swish set of Hollywood. She started as a nobody and after a string of lovers ends up with the hottest movie director in town. She is positioned as someone “who doesn’t deserve” what she has today. The scene in which she takes pains in telling a theatre owner in Hollywood about who she is when they are screening one of her movies is a grim reminder of how the world looks at celebrities. But it also tells her own story from small town Dallas to the lush neighborhoods of Hollywood. Robbie is every bit Sharon Tate. The scene in which she is introduced , Deep Purple’s “Hush” is played in the background!
The Storytelling of Tarantino
There are no two doubts that QT is possibly the most successful film director who has redefined the method storytelling. OUATIH marks the cooling off his tonality in storytelling. This film doesn’t have too much blood, too many killings just like in Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained etc. It does have its moments in action and violence but is way lesser than most of his films. He uses unexpected characters to amplify the story. For example, in one scene, a little 8 year old budding actor and feminist Tudi Fraser gives Rick a lecture on life, acting and philosophy which ultimately makes him feel miserable. It’s these unexpected people who come from nowhere and yet contribute in building up the stakes for the lead characters. To make things even more unpredictable, the role of Brandy, the lovable Pit Bull dog of Cliff is the key influencer in the climax. It’s this super-imaginative mind of Tarantino which makes a simple story look like an epic.
Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, the affable sidekick/stuntman steals the thunder.
DiCaprio as the confused, miserable and yet promising Rick Dalton also packs a punch. Its their “Jai/Veeru” type friendship which pushes the story forward.
Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate does a decent job but she doesn’t get that much opportunity to do much.
Al Pacino as Marvin Schawrz who gets work for Rick is simply superb as his agent.
Kurt Russel as Randy is also entertaining.
In fact all actors have done a great job!...hahaha
Final Verdict :
I would give this movie a 9 out of 10 as Quentin Tarantino uses a lot of imagination and innovation to make his stories look like epics! But this is not his best work.