Much of the 1969 Los Angeles can be seen in the new Quentin Tarantino film Once upon a time in Hollywood is real, but you can be forgiven for thinking differently. The characters of the film, like most Los Angelenos, spend a lot of time driving from place to place. Their travels see them dragging along to mostly forgotten versions of famous songs as they go past theaters with party tents that may promote films, but Tarantino has been thinking about it for years. The 1969 we now remember – with its political upheaval, moon landing and game-changing films such as Easy Rider – usually exists outside of this world. This is a 1969 LA in which José Feliciano & # 39; California Dreamin & # 39; sings and advertisements promote an intriguing new sex comedy 3 in the attic, both are steamy pieces of pop culture that have since faded into blurred memory. There is a lot going on in Tarantino's latest film, including an exploration of the delicacy of a moment in time and how easily an era can be wiped out.
The only characteristic event from 1969 that the film does, at least, sort of, only reinforces that idea. On the night of August 8, 1969, three members of the Manson family committed mass murder in the home of Roman Polanski (who was then out of town to work on a movie) and Sharon Tate (who was among the victims). Joan Didion has declared the murders as the symbolic end of the 1960s, and they serve that purpose well. But despite the great role that the Manson family plays in the film (this review will do its best to keep that and other important plotting elements intact), Once upon a time in Hollywood is very much a film about the moments before an era comes to an end and the people who live in that era, including their joys, frustrations and inability to see what comes around.
When the film starts, frustrations have long caught up with the joy of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). He saw considerable success as the star of the Western TV series Premium law in the early years & # 39; 60, but he is not quite sure how he keeps up with the times. His film career never got off the ground, and although he doesn't want to go to work, it usually means that he has to use guest spots like bad guys in shows that are helped by younger up-and-coming stars. He drinks too much and worries even more, because one habit feeds the other in a self-destructive cycle. But Dalton also knows that he can still act, given the right environment. He is forced to consider a change of scenery after meeting Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), a Hollywood agent who wants to send him to Rome to shine in Westerns, which is a move Rick really won't make.
Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who has been helping him for years by doing his chores, doing groceries and especially lending moral support. Cliff has a dubious past and sometimes exercises a doubtful judgment, qualities that have affected his own professional prospects. But Cliff doesn't seem to be that bad. He believes in Rick and seems perfectly happy to do his chores if he doesn't hang around in the trailer that he shares with an obedient and extremely hungry pit bull behind a drive-in theater in Van Nuys.
This allows him to spend time cruising, where he meets all sorts of intriguing characters, including Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), a teenage hippie he eventually learns, staying at the old Spahn Movie Ranch with a number of followers from someone named Charlie. But Cliff has no way to make a connection between this Charlie and the weird looking guy he saw appearing in Rick & # 39; s neighbor's house, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), or knowing that Sharon is a less pronounced version of the same career ennui that Rick is disturbing.
That is the basic arrangement of a film that is more about the arrangement than a traditional plot. Tarantino coined the term & # 39; hangout film & # 39; to describe the tradition he felt Jackie Brown belonged to films in which spending time with attractive, memorable characters mattered more than what happened to those characters. He also quoted his favorite movie, Howard Hawks " Rio Bravo, like the pretty ideal from such a & # 39; n movie. Less happens Hollywood than most hangout films. The presence of the Manson family points to an end point for the story, but the pieces that led to that moment are less about putting forward a story and more about observing the main characters at promising moments: Rick guests on the pilot of the (real) TV program Lancer. Cliff takes a hitchhiker to Spahn Ranch and observes how much his new residents have changed. Sharon spends an afternoon alone in the film.
All the while, the film uses meticulous production design to create the illusion of time travel. Tarantino is based on different sources as usual. In this crucial respect, it most closely resembles Mike Mills & # 39; 20th century women, are memory-driven revisiting from the late 1970s. Although it is less direct autobiographical, Once upon a time in Hollywood feels personal in the same way, as an attempt to recreate the world that Tarantino saw as a child growing up in Los Angeles and, in the process, perhaps better understanding that moment and recording what was lost in August 1969. This happens both on a personal level – Robbie & # 39; s warm, candid performance while Tate humanises a woman who is forever known as a victim of murder – and a cultural level.
It is also an attempt to understand those who lived there. Rick saw dragging and stuttering for the first time while nervously waiting for an encounter that could change his life. Rick is a fascinating contradictory character. He has too big an ego and too much vulnerability. He tries to avoid work that he feels is under him, desperately clinging to what he has earned before it slips away. DiCaprio beautifully captures that swirl of emotions and the ways in which they can turn around uncontrollably. Rick talks and smokes and rarely sits still. It is a stark contrast to Cliff, who says as little as possible and likes to float through life. But it also refers to the darkness in his past and follows even darker rumors behind him. Cliff is on screen through much of the film and he leaves as much mystery as he enters.
There is one thing that is know about him: he loves Rick and Rick loves him. Their band, although sometimes under pressure, forms the heart of this surprisingly warm film. Tarantino doesn't have a short audience on the expected technical bravado, memorable dialogue or flash of violence – see an early scene after Cliff going home who sees a camera flying above a drive-in screen and a long scene between Rick and a precocious child actor (Julia Butters) ) for examples. But in Once upon a time in Hollywood, none of it is as important as the central friendship, an unlikely partnership that could only have happened in a long lost moment. Here it is evoked and brought back as a place where we are invited with the bittersweet notion that our stay, like the era it describes, must ultimately end.