Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

In the early morning of August 9, 1969, Sharon Tate and two of her roommates were brutally murdered by followers of the cult leader Charles Manson. The murders are widely seen as the end of Hollywood’s perceived innocence and the beginning of a period of darkness. Given that the films of the 1960s helped to shape the talents of Quentin Tarantino, it makes sense that this famed action director would be interested in making a film about the events surrounding the murders, although what he has created is an alternate history or fairy tale.

Tarantino is an American filmmaker and actor. He was born in 1963 and was six years old at the time of the murders. He began his career as an independent filmmaker in the early 1990s with the release of Reservoir Dogs in 1992, deemed by some to be the greatest independent film of all time. Its popularity was boosted by his second film, Pulp Fiction 1994), a black comedy crime film that was also a major success among critics and audiences. For his next effort, Tarantino made Jackie Brown (1997), an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel, Rum Punch. His films are characterized by non-linear storylines, satirical subject matter, violence and soundtracks primarily containing songs and score pieces from the 1960s to the 1980s.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood focuses on the trials and tribulations of fictional actor Rick Dalton and his stunt man Cliff Booth, both of whom, after spending years performing in a successful western-themed television show called Bounty Law, have fallen on hard times. Dalton is no longer the star he once was and is struggling with alcoholism; Booth is having difficulty finding work because of his shady past. The story follows them as they strive to restore their former success and, in Rick’s case, battle his demons (alcoholism, ego and insecurity). 

In this fictional story, Dalton lives next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski. Their stories run parallel until, at the end with the Manson murders becoming the film’s climax, the plots intersect in an interesting and unconventional way.

Leonardo DiCaprio is wonderful as Rick Dalton. We feel sympathy for this man who is trapped in a world he no longer understands, and frustration with his inability to cope with his addictions and crippling fragility. DiCaprio is best known for his breakout role in Titanic but has also starred in other excellent films such as The Wolf of Wall StreetInceptionThe Departed, and The Revenant.

Brad Pitt plays the central role in the film. In his role as Cliff Booth, he is Dalton’s best friend and driver, providing him with emotional and moral support. He is also a man capable of great violence, but since Pitt is so charming in the role, we are willing to ignore this flaw in his personality.

Sharon Tate is played convincingly by Margo Robbie, who has in the past played Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad and Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. Robbie plays Tate as a sympathetic innocent but gives a comedic, entertaining performance.

This is an excellent film and well worth viewing.