Quentin Tarantino is a movie director who doesn’t actually make that many movies. In a career that spans nearly 30 years, he has made nine movies. Most directors hit movie number nine in year nine.
So when Tarantino, whose most popular film is probably “Pulp Fiction,” makes a movie, people take a look to see what is going on.
His newest film is “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” and it’s basically a retelling of the Manson Family murders in 1969, though there is a lot more going on than just that horrific happening.
Leonardo DiCaprio is the main star here, though Brad Pitt is a close second. DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an aging TV star who wants to break into movies, and Pitt is his personal stunt man, Cliff Booth, though Booth himself says he’s really just Dalton’s paid friend who can’t get work anymore.
See, Booth’s wife was killed under mysterious circumstances and everybody believes he got away with murder, so nobody wants to work with him.
As we get going, Dalton meets up with an agent played by Al Pacino is an over the top cameo and is told his future in the movie business lies in making Italian westerns. Dalton had played a good cowboy on a TV show for several years, but the show ended and now Dalton is stuck in supporting roles on TV shows he wants no part of.
He’s never mentioned, but this part is pretty much the career of Clint Eastwood. Eastwood starred in “Rawhide” for seven years, then ended up having to go and make Italian westerns (that were actually shot mostly in Spain) to get his movie career going.
Dalton doesn’t like the idea of going to Europe, so he ends up doing another TV show guest spot where an eight year old girl tells him he’s one of the best actors she’s ever seen. Dalton’s smile shows he doesn’t care if the person praising him is only eight years old.
Meanwhile, Booth is busy doing some repair work on Dalton’s house while also eventually picking up one of Manson’s “girls” who takes him to the compound where Manson keeps everybody. The compound turns out to belong to a man who Booth once worked with and we get one of those tense Tarantino scenes where Booth demands to see the guy and gets every excuse why he can’t before declaring he’s going to go see the man no matter what anybody says.
And in a third mini story, we follow Sharon Tate, the most famous victim of the Manson Family as she goes into a theater to watch one of her own movies and see how the audience reacts. Played By Margot Robbie, Tate is beautiful innocence personified and the joy she exhibits as the audience laughs at her comedic performance is contagious.
As with all Tarantino movies, all these story lines come together as it turns out Dalton is a neighbor to Tate but they don’t actually meet until the night of the Manson Family attack. I won’t say what happens, but Tarantino has described this movie as a fairy tale, so it’s not what you expect.
All the performances here are excellent, especially DiCaprio who goes all in, letting himself go, even sporting the beginnings of a double chin. Pitt still looks the way most men can only dream of looking, but he lets the film acknowledge his age of 55 when one of Manson’s girls describes him as “some old guy in a Hawaiian shirt.”
The movie has caught a little flack because it portrays Bruce Lee as a blowhard who brags he can beat anybody in a fight. I have no idea what Lee was like in real life, but this recreates so much in an absurd way, I doubt anybody will think less of a man who’s been dead nearly 50 years.
Like most of Tarantino’s movies, there are time jumps galore and brief scenes that don’t have much to do with the rest of the story, but it really does all come together in the end.
The movie looks astounding and what you imagine 1969 really looked like. Finding all of those old cars must have taken up about $10 million of the $90 million budget. Not to mention recreating all the buildings and landmarks from that year, most of which no longer exist.
If you’ve liked Tarantino’s past movies, you’ll like this one. It’s not his best movie, “Pulp Fiction” takes that award, and maybe not even his second best, you could argue for “Inglorious Bastards,” but it’s definitely top five. It’s worth a look, even at two hours and forty minutes.