Quentin Tarantino’s ninth (marathon) feature film leaves the blizzady environs of The Hateful Eight for Tinseltown circa 1969 (specifically two months) to again relate his insight and ardor for his preferred medium. Or the ones that really influenced his extensive interests and obsessions which including the craft of acting while having a ride in a Coupe de Ville.
Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood (shot on 35 mm film) stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie headlining a large ensemble. The acclaimed writer/director of films like Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained (he won two original screenplay Oscars for Fiction and Django) harkens back to the end of a heyday culminating between Apollo 11 and Woodstock (a little golden anniversary plug).
A mirthful, hangout vibe (like the aforementioned “Brown”) is evident especially in the early sections as the film follows crestfallen, former television western star Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his long-time stunt double and factotum (a war veteran with troubled past) Cliff Booth (Pitt) dealing with an industry on the cusp of change. Finding their place as obsolescence kicks in isn’t that easy with spaghetti Westerns on the docket for an Italy shoot for the middle-aged twosome. A hard-drinking Dalton returns to his Hollywood Hills residence with a wife as his neighbor happens to be actress Shanon Tate and director husband Roman Polanski (who is overseas for a film shoot).
While the middle portion may be too wrapped in its flexuous pleasure an amalgamation of fantasy and reality does have a certain insouciant buoyancy in what paints greater optimism on what looks to be headed by he wayside. Pitt arguably rises above his second=billing with a cool, cynically smirking swagger that works quite well opposite DiCaprio’s dalton who gets to use flamethrowers in his vocation while having a touching moment with a much younger co-star. A comic highlight is booth’s confrontation with karate maestro Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) as Ciff will become involved with hippo gal Pussycat (as well Margaret Qualley, daughter of Andie McDowell).
Plenty of filmic and pop-culture references in the alternative Hollywood abound that will delight kindred buffs amid plenty of comets life Bruce Dern heading the Spahn Ranch, as well as the late Luke Perry. Some of the other notable appearances include Lena Dunham, Emile Hirsch, Zoe Bell, Brenda Vaccaro, Kirt Russel, as well as Damon Herriman as Charles Manson. besides notable auxiliary turns from Al Pacino as fictional talent agent Marvin Schwarz, Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, and obscure Polish thespian Rafal Zawierucha as Polanski.
This revisionist nostalgia of sorts weaves retro music into its various storylines with the central relationship providing the necessary cohesion as Tarantino effectively unspools the last act with enough effrontery to astonish, if not surprise in connecting a very inhuman chapter with motifs including the passing of the torch and the loss of innocence. It must be said that Robbie’s turn as Tate has a quiet dream-like quality to it as the awkward charm of the late actress is evidenced when being entranced by her (real?) ‘klutzy’ self opposite Dean Martin’s Matt Helm during screening ‘The Wrecking Crew’ without forking over admission.
In actuality the title may be a bit of a spoiler or foreshadower, but if the final product could have been edited in the fashion of how the conclusion sticks at the landing the lavishly detailed auteur perhaps could have produced his truly witty and poignant masterwork. Nevertheless, One Upon A Time… imparts a groovy kind of love on a hometown where history is on a collision course with a permeating lore in a quite personal pure expression.