Reviewed by: David Cook
Revisionist history / the movie’s strong alteration of historical realities
Charles Manson murders, including the murder of pregnant Sharon Tate, wife of Roman Polanski
Alcoholics / alcoholism / about drunkenness in the Bible
Leonardo DiCaprio … Rick Dalton
Brad Pitt … Cliff Booth
Margot Robbie … Sharon Tate
Rafal Zawierucha … Roman Polanski, Tate’s husband
Emile Hirsch … Jay Sebring, Tate’s hairdresser
Timothy Olyphant … James Stacy
Damon Herriman … Charles Manson
Austin Butler … Charles “Tex” Watson, a central member of the “Manson Family”
Dakota Fanning … Squeaky Fromme, a member of the “Manson Family”
Margaret Qualley … Pussycat, a member of the “Manson Family”
Lena Dunham … “Gypsy” Catherine Share, a “Manson Family” member
Bruce Dern … George Spahn—rented ranch to Charles Manson
Madisen Beaty … “Katie” Patricia Dianne Krenwinkel, a “Manson Family” member
Victoria Pedretti … “Lulu” Leslie Van Houten, a “Manson Family” member
Sarah May Sommers (Sarah Wald) … Manson Family member
Daniel Callister … Manson Family member
Zack Whyel … Manson Family member
Sean Baker … Manson Family member
Bomber Hurley-Smith … Manson Family member
Damian Lewis … Steve McQueen
Al Pacino … Marvin Schwarzs
Kurt Russell … Randy, a stunt coordinator
Zoe Bell … Randy’s wife
Luke Perry … Wayne Maunder
Mike Moh … Bruce Lee
Scoot McNairy … Business Bob Gilbert
Clifton Collins Jr. … Ernesto The Mexican Vaquero
Maya Hawke … Flower Child, a “Manson Family” member
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Bona Film Group [China]
Heyday Films [Great Britain]
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Columbia Pictures, a division of Sony Pictures
I forgot I was in a theater. I was transported to a different time and place. How did they do it? Patient filmmaking. Quentin Tarantino elevated his skill and showcased his patience as a filmmaker in “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”—his new film about the golden era of Los Angeles. He showed patience establishing 1969 with fashion, music, and the daily way of life. He showed patience developing characters with real struggles, real ambitions, and the obstacles standing in their way. He showed patience establishing the industry of Hollywood… its fickle nature of success, the fear of failure, and the lifestyle it affords. Finally, he showed patience establishing the inevitable horror hiding behind the neon lights and marquees. This patience allowed me to become fully immersed in an unfamiliar environment, and I didn’t want to leave.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a dwindling TV/movie star being chauffeured from one Hollywood set to another by his stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Painfully, we watch Rick as he works tirelessly at his craft in his attempt to stay relevant while battling his own demons.
As Rick’s career declines, so does Cliff’s. However, Cliff seems content with his modest lifestyle and the imminent change approaching. He enjoys driving his rusted car, listening to the radio, and spending evenings with his dog. Soon, they realize Rick has new neighbors—Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie)—the hottest director in town and his wife… an up-and-coming actress.
In contrast to Rick and Cliff, their new neighbors are ascending into stardom. With this success comes star-studded Hollywood parties, fast cars, and the best restaurants—a juxtaposition to the lives of Rick and Cliff. Though their lives are on different trajectories, they are thrust together by multiple encounters with a hippy-like family led by the infamous Charles Manson. Here, fiction and history collide in a interesting and horrific tale of not-so-long-ago.
If you are familiar with the films of Quentin Tarantino, you know to expect excessive foul language, drug use, and violence… especially with a film dealing with the Manson murders. “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” certainly includes all of these familiar elements, but what I didn’t expect was a sweet and uplifting story told with such a controlled and mature direction. Tarantino seems to have removed his distinct, stylized flair and replaced it with homage to the movies of that era… specifically “American Graffiti” and Roman Polanski’s own “Chinatown.” I doubt that was a coincidence.
Ironically, the only times that you see the trademark Tarantino style is in the fictional, old movies and TV shows from the characters’ pasts… which is completely inaccurate to the style of that time, but a fun and clever directorial decision for this narrative.
Brad Pitt’s (“Fight Club,” “Inglourious Basterds”) performance as Cliff is subdued but complex. He looks at each day as a new opportunity. He is gentle, but his job portrays violence, and his past is checkered. He balances this dichotomy effortlessly.
Margot Robbie (“The Wolf of Wall Street,” “Suicide Squad”) sensitively interprets a real-life portrait of Sharon Tate in a way that is totally endearing. Everything about this glamorous Hollywood lifestyle is new to her. Her self-confidence is restrained, but her future is bright.
The star of the film, though, is Leonardo DiCaprio (“Titanic,” “The Wolf of Wall Street,” “The Revenant”) as Rick Dalton. His performance juggles multiple tiers of his character: 1) a delicate actor delivering inconsistent performances, 2) a self-centered, impatient alcoholic, 3) a concerned neighbor, and 4) a good friend.
This film is not for the faint of heart. The foul language is excessive in its use of the f-word, s**t, a**hole, and more. This film focuses on late 60’s fashion, so there are many shots focused on mini-skirts and bare midriffs. There is a large amount of drinking, smoking, and using drugs, plus a couple explicit moments of sex talk… but nothing is shown.
The number of scenes of violence is not as frequent as I expected in a Tarantino film, but when it happens, this violence is extreme and graphic… and, in the usual Tarantino fashion, he makes the audience laugh inappropriately during these violent moments.
Despite all the vulgarity that comes with this film and the disturbing history of Charles Manson—“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” tells a rather beautiful story of aspiration, kindness, and friendship. It looks at history, and it remembers the good that once was. In a time with no Internet or cell phones, people managed to stay connected. They listened to the same radio stations, gave people rides, and looked after one another.
The friendship between Rick and Cliff is genuine. They have been through thick and thin, and their bond will not be broken by the struggles they face. Have you ever worked side by side with someone to help those in need?… soup kitchen, mission’s trip, etc. For me, those bonds never die, because we see each other in our rawest element. All through the Gospels and into Paul’s writings, we learn what the disciples experienced in friendship with Jesus. As a result of following Jesus, experiencing His goodness, and facing many tribulations with Him, their faithfulness grew. Subsequently, the Word of God spread, and the number of disciples increased rapidly (Acts 6). God’s Will is perfect. He knew the disciples would find strength in friendship and fellowship, and He commands that of us today (Matthew 18:20).
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” depicts a disturbing historical event, but it takes creative liberty as well. In doing so, the film finds inspiration and hope amid a horrible moment in time. For those that want nonstop action and thrills, this movie may underwhelm, but I was swept away by its charm and the way it views the world in a positive light… despite the consuming darkness.
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