'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' review: Pastiche of the past

A scene from the movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”.

A scene from the movie “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”.   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Quentin Tarantino’s nostalgic cinema trip might be long-winded but comes together in a heady climax, says Deborah Cornelious

Rarely has a film celebrated the past with such flamboyance like Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. But that’s Quentin Tarantino: he has the audacity to revel in the violent, and celebrate the ridiculously unbelievable with exceptional flair. After all, he did kill Hitler ten years ago in Inglourious Basterds. With his ninth film, Once a Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino goes back in time again, taking on the Charles Manson-orchestrated murder of actor Sharon Tate and her friends. Through the character of Rick Dalton (Leonardo Dicaprio), an actor fast propelling towards has-been status, Tarantino offers an adrenaline-fuelled glimpse of Hollywood in the 1950s and 60s. It was a time, when the opposite of high-definition excited millions across the world, morality ruled the roost on screen, and off it, while debauchery drove the rich and famous.

The film starts in 1969, the Vietnam War is soldiering on at full speed, hippie counter culture is on the verge of taking over and easy listening (Paul Revere & The Raiders, José Feliciano and Vanilla Fudge) is on the rise. Tarantino crafts the cusp of the 70s spectacularly with costumes, music and an overwhelming sense of nostalgia. It’s a time when former star, Dalton has resorted to playing ‘the heavy’ (villain) on TV shows like Lancer, The F.B.I and The Green Hornet. His friend, stunt double and general Man Friday, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) chauffeurs him around. The two characters, opposite in station are equally different in personalities. Dalton, rich and successful, is alcoholic and insecure, finding stability in the self-assuredness and calm of his friend and employee. It’s their bromance that lights up Once Upon… frequently. Parallelly, exuberant Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) moves in next door to Dalton with her husband Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha). Exuding delicate charisma, Tate floats wherever she goes.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Director: Quentin Tarantino
  • Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Lena Dunham, Damian Lewis, Kurt Russell, Scoot McNairy, Mike Moh
  • Story line: Set in 1969, Hollywood — Rick Dalton is trying to save his acting career with stuntman, Cliff Booth’s help while simultaneously, cult leader Charles Manson’s followers are plotting a sinister crime.

In an attempt to give his leading men opportunities to showcase their acting chops, Tarantino offers free rein to his own imagination. It’s not a complaint, but an observation: the director digresses, indulging himself and allowing his leads to do the same. More than once, Dalton’s guest spots on TV shows unfurl in full, entire scenes where Dicaprio hurtles in and out of character. Of note is Dalton’s interaction with a little feminist child actor Trudi (Julia Butters) who schools him in using terms of endearment like ‘pumpkin puss’. In another scene, Booth, a war veteran smacks humility into a smarmy Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). In another, he’s investigating the well-being of an old colleague on a ranch full of hippies, in merciless drawn-out suspense.

Clocking in at close to three hours, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is long-winding and oscillates wildly. But with Tarantino’s mastery of craft, the film never once feels like a drag. The humour is sassy, the acting top notch and the stars, both yesteryear and contemporary, alone are enough to make you stay put until the end. Rest assured, the film’s coda is a psychedelic trip: it’s pumped up, violent, fast and typical Tarantino. Unfortunately, it arrives too late. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood may not be the director’s best of nine, but it’s definitely a film you shouldn’t miss.

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Printable version | Mar 24, 2020 1:13:14 AM |

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