The drama directed by Quentin Tarantino follows an actor and his stunt double during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age.
By Andrew Warrick
Photo via Sony Pictures Entertainment
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” directed by Quentin Tarantino, is electrifying from the start. A rock ‘n’ roll tune blasts, and Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a once-famous actor having a midlife crisis, and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his stunt double, start their car and drive through a beautifully realized 1969 Los Angeles. Intrigue, surprise and hilarity ensue.
DiCaprio and Pitt play off each other perfectly, adding an astounding duo of new characters to Tarantino’s rich catalogue. There are also brief sojourns with movie star and Manson victim Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), which perfectly capture the intoxicating glamour of old Hollywood.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a slick, witty hangout flick — the closest to “Pulp Fiction” Tarnatino has ever come. The script is full of the rapid banter, idiosyncratic monologues and roaring musical cues that make Tarantino so eternally cool.
Yet it’s also something new. While the movie has machine gun dialogue, and actual machine guns, it’s also a triumphant personal statement.
In 1969, Dalton is floundering as an actor because he has gotten older. He was most popular in the 1950s, and as his fame wanes, the world around him has moved on, becoming increasingly chaotic and alien. Dalton’s struggle to stay relevant mirrors Tarantino’s, who recently has faced his fair share of criticism for how he portrays violence and heavier topics in his movies. Many have wondered if today, in light of the Me Too movement and political polarization, graphic movies like Tarantino’s still have an audience. Just like Rick Dalton, though, Tarantino has decided to try and prove the world wrong, and show that he still has a place in the movies.
The director reigns in the ultra violence for most of the running time, focusing instead on the hilarious, yet heart-stirringly human characters and the neon-filled world they occupy. This approach works astoundingly, and “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” has some of the most poignant moments of any of Tarantino’s projects. By contrasting Hollywood idealism with the violence of the late 60s (specifically the Vietnam War and the Manson family), Tarantino shows how delightful, and important, cinema can be. In Tarantino’s Hollywood, movie magic can save careers and even lives.
In today’s increasingly anarchic times, this escapism is just as welcome and moving as it was in the 60s. Tarantino grew up in that era, and his reverence gives the movie an authentic soul, an earnestness that isn’t as apparent in his previous works. There’s a refreshing maturity to the movie, coupled with a roaring, rock ‘n’ roll sense of fun.
When the carnage does inevitably come, it is all the more effective because of Tarantino’s restraint. The closing minutes are just as blood soaked, intense and cruelly hysterical as anything he’s made. From this film’s power, the message is loud and clear. Tarantino is just as vital as he’s always been.
The Michigan Theatre in Ann Arbor is presenting “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” on gorgeous 35mm film, something rare in movie theaters today. Every frame is filled with the deep, warm colors of the 1960s. I’d recommend it.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”
603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor
Showing until at least Aug. 15
Andrew Warrick is a student at the University of Michigan. He is majoring in creative writing and history, and is a part of the Residential College. He also leads the RC’s Creative Writing Forum. When not watching movies, he loves hanging out with friends, especially in the spectacular Ann Arbor, becoming addicted to novels, and listening to Bowie records. Some of his favorite movies are “Cloud Atlas,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Twin Peaks: The Return,” “The Grand Budapest Hotel” and “Alien.”