Once upon a time in Hollywood had scaled the box office for two weeks when my friend and I finally saw it. ‘The ninth film from writer-director Quentin Tarantino’ was not only an audience champion but critics have likewise raved about it. The film is also notable for featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in their first picture together. Aside from those two, Hollywood also had Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning and Aussie Margot Robbie in smaller roles. Set during the last years of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the production reminded me of my recent Baldacci read, with its retro vibe, older technology, and where everything was cheaper. Hollywood also had the staple of seventies culture: hippies, free love, smoking joints, and bell bottoms – to name a few.
Dalton and Booth
When I asked my friend if he liked it, he answered that he did. We agreed though that it was a slow movie. For starters, the film is lengthy. Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is a fading TV star. His shining role a few years back seems like ages ago. He is always with his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Pitt). The latter functions as his all-in-one assistant. Unknown to his workmates, Dalton lost his license a few months back and Booth has been driving him everywhere since then. Booth is also his handyman and his runner. Both Booth and Dalton talk with a Southern drawl. Of course, if you’re wondering whether that duo is real, then you’re somewhat mistaken. Dalton and Booth are not actual persons, but they are fictionalised. I thought the pair were purely imagined, but some research showed how other performers inspired their characters.
Dalton lives next door to Sharon Tate and director Roman Polanski in an exclusive neighbourhood. They do not interact until much later, despite being adjacent to each other. This is a nod to the film’s tagline of ‘multiple storylines…’ Tate is the budding movie star who becomes pregnant. As mentioned, Tate and Dalton do not cross paths for much of the film, living mostly in different circles. Rick’s career had deteriorated to a point where his agent, Marvin Schwarz (Pacino), was convincing him to head to Italy for a career resurgence. Initially reticent, Dalton eventually agrees to go. After six months and four Westerns abroad, he comes back to the land of the free. He is a changed man, with an Italian wife in tow.
Hollywood reminded me of The Sopranos. There are a few lighter moments, especially a scene where Rick forgets his lines. That scene was reminiscent of a famous TV boo-boo a while ago. The picture isn’t all about castings, lines, and stuntmen; the Manson family likewise figures. There was also an eerie scene with Pitt, who scours the Manson valley in search of George, a former colleague. The latter has a hard time hearing and recognising him, mistaking him for someone else and not fully comprehending his statements. George watches the show, FBI, with his fellow hippie, while Dalton and Booth would watch it on the same day that the latter pays George a visit. Ironic.
Hats up to Tarantino for resurrecting a bygone era, complete with classic autos and vintage products. There was also a Bruce Lee sighting, although the real Bruce wouldn’t be one-upped by Booth. Calvin’s dog was a life saver, rescuing the distressed before bedtime. The image of the iconic Pan-Am jets was rather nostalgic, as was the price for a movie ticket. The climax, though fictionalised, was classic Tarantino with blood, guts, and gore. The ensemble cast made their mark: Damian Lewis, a familiar face from Homeland, took on the role of big shot Steve McQueen. Kurt Russell also had a bit part. I likewise recognised one of the cult members in the apex, who portrays Robin in a popular series. This film was also significant as being Luke Perry’s final outing.
Likes and dislikes
I loved the imagery, the story, the unbridled ending, the fullness of the players, the pulsing characters brought to life, and the vibe. I disliked the running time, the surplus of scenes, and the slow pace. Not a bad introduction to Quentin, but not a great one either.