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  • Writer's pictureBruce Klein

Once Upon A Time in Hollywood: Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a movie about a former TV western star Rick Dalton (Leonard DiCaprio) who is now a character actor going from one TV series to the next. His employee is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a former stunt man who now is Rick’s driver, body guard and handy man. The title tells us the movie is a fantasy; but this movie is a fantastic fantasy. The movie uses images, events, and songs to set the 1960s tone of the movie. But, the interpretation of this period is the vision of the writer/director, Quentin Tarantino. He brings us in by using many emotional sign posts of 50s and 60s. Then he plots a message about how to live and the strain of living.

The story revolves around Rick. He was the lead in a successful 1950s western, not unlike Chuck Connors or James Arness. In the 1960s, Dalton is still in movies but sliding down to playing the “bad guy.” He is no longer the hero. His side kick, Cliff is his best friend and the two are usually together. A side plot involves real life Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), the wife of Roman Polanski, and the Manson Family. Sharon is a model and sometimes actor.

Rick and Cliff are getting older in a business that looks to young actors to star in the next movie or series. Rick is too old for the leading man and Cliff is too old for stunts. Rick, especially, tells himself lies even though he knows his career and life are headed downhill. For example, an old actor friend asks him about a tryout for The Great Escape. Rick did have a tryout but he denies it. He doesn’t want to look back at his failures. At the same time, he is not secure in his past success. He looks mostly at being washed up. An agent played by Al Pacino advices him to make Westerns in Italy so he can work his way back to being a leading man. But this advice falls on reluctant ears. Pacino slips into the movie almost as a dream. Is he real?

Tarantino is a wizard and a witch doctor. He casts his spells well in Once Upon A Time in Hollywood. He warps the time. He creates anger, tension and fear without smut or coarse language. He tempts the audience to step into the many intense scenes. For much of the movie it is hard to tell when the filming ends and Rick returns to his life. Rick’s personal life is shallow and acting has rewards but is not fulfilling. Act III is the resolution of a growing conflict. If I have one problem with, it's that the film stretches on too long and takes away the power of the resolution.

However, the story seems to speak to today’s troubles. The director’s imagination allows a whole gamut of disturbing, surreal, and outright frightening scenes and plot scenarios. What do we take away from a comedy/drama with that kind of range? The movie draw parallels from today where anybody can be a celebrity and celebrities can turn into politicians and business leaders whose lies are capricious.

On the surface, the movie is about an older buff TV actor in Hollywood who is a drunk. Then there is the beautiful fated blond Sharon Tate. Of course there is Tarantino’s comic book violence that many in the audience found funny. Underneath it all it tells us that existence contains many situations that are out of our control. So do we lie to ourselves about it? Or do we concede that the world in not in our control.

The occupants of this Hollywood have certain standards to uphold although it pains them. We learn that the Hollywood community is unforgiving and escape is easy through alcohol and drugs but life and career are difficult. Everyone has a hustle, but no one seems to value life. Leaving the community is very difficult but it’s the only way out. Get ready to be amused and frightened. You will be looking into a director’s soul who says much in mysterious ways.

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