Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) Movie Review

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a 2019 comedy-drama film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino. Produced by Columbia Pictures, Bona Film Group, Heyday Films, and Visiona Romantica and distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing, it is a co-production between the United States and the United Kingdom. It features a large ensemble cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, and Al Pacino. Set in 1969 Los Angeles, the film follows an actor and his stunt double, as they navigate the changing film industry, and features “multiple storylines in a modern fairy tale tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age”.

Announced in July 2017, it is the first Tarantino film to not involve Bob and Harvey Weinstein, as Tarantino ended his partnership with them following the sexual abuse allegations against the latter. After a bidding war, the film was distributed by Sony Pictures, which met Tarantino’s demands including final cut privilege. Pitt, DiCaprio, Robbie, Zoë Bell, Kurt Russell, and others joined the cast between January and June 2018. Principal photography lasted from June through November around Los Angeles. It is the last film to feature Luke Perry, who died in March 2019.

The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2019, and was theatrically released in the United States on July 26 and in the United Kingdom on August 14. It has grossed $372 million worldwide, with The Hollywood Reporter writing that critics had “an overall positive view” of the film, calling it “Tarantino’s love letter to ’60s L.A.” and praising its cast and setting, though some were “divided on its ending”.

Plot

In February 1969, Hollywood actor Rick Dalton, star of 1950s Western television series Bounty Law, fears his career is over. Casting agent Marvin Schwarzs advises him to make Spaghetti Westerns, which Dalton feels are beneath him. Dalton’s friend and stunt double, Cliff Booth – a war veteran who lives in a trailer with his pit bull, Brandy – drives Dalton around because Dalton’s alcoholism has resulted in multiple DUIs. Booth struggles to find work due to rumors that he murdered his wife. Actress Sharon Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski, have moved next door to Dalton, who dreams of befriending them to restore his status. That night, Tate and Polanski attend a celebrity-filled party at the Playboy Mansion.

The next day, Booth repairs Dalton’s TV antenna. He reminisces about a sparring contest he had with Bruce Lee on the set of The Green Hornet, resulting in Booth being fired. Charles Manson stops by the Polanski residence looking for Terry Melcher, who used to live there, but is turned away by Jay Sebring. While driving Dalton’s car, Booth picks up a hitchhiker, “Pussycat”. He drops her off at Spahn Ranch, where Booth once filmed Bounty Law. He notices the hippies living there (the Manson Family). Suspecting they are taking advantage of the owner, George Spahn, Booth insists on checking on him despite “Squeaky”‘s objections. Spahn dismisses Booth’s fears. Booth discovers that “Clem” slashed a tire on Dalton’s car; Booth beats him and forces him to change it. “Tex” is asked to deal with the situation but arrives as Booth drives away. Tate goes for a walk and stops at a movie theater to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew.

Dalton plays a villain on the pilot of Lancer, and strikes up a conversation with his eight-year-old co-star, Trudi Fraser. Dalton struggles with his dialogue. After having a breakdown in his trailer, Dalton delivers a performance that impresses Fraser and the director, Sam Wanamaker, bolstering Dalton’s confidence. After watching Dalton’s guest performance on an episode of The F.B.I., Schwarzs books him as the lead of Sergio Corbucci’s next Western, Nebraska Jim. Dalton takes Booth with him for a stint in Italy, during which he appears in two additional Westerns and a Eurospy comedy, and marries Italian starlet Francesca Capucci.

Returning home, Dalton informs Booth he can no longer afford his services. They go out for drinks, then return to Dalton’s home. Booth smokes an acid-laced cigarette and takes Brandy for a walk. “Tex”, “Sadie”, “Flower Child”, and “Katie” park outside in preparation to murder everyone in Tate’s house. Dalton hears the car and orders them to leave. Changing their plans, they decide to kill Dalton after “Sadie” reasons Hollywood “taught them to murder”. “Flower Child” drives off, deserting the other three. They break into Dalton’s house and confront Capucci and Booth, who recognizes them from Spahn Ranch. Booth orders Brandy to attack, and together they kill “Katie” and “Tex” and severely injure “Sadie”. She stumbles outside, alarming Dalton, who was listening to music on headphones, oblivious to the mayhem. He retrieves a flamethrower and incinerates her. Booth is hospitalized, Sebring engages Dalton in conversation, and Tate invites Dalton over for drinks.

My Personal Thoughts

The film takes place during the 1960s in L.A., at the end of Hollywood’s Golden Age. To be able to understand the ending, we need to talk about what “the golden age of Hollywood” even means. Basically, think about the way you consume TV and movies today. You have about 21,388,120,938,120 streaming platforms to choose from; a whole world of movies is quite literally at your fingertips. You might not even remember the last time you went to an actual theater.

In the ’60s, the movie theater was THE PLACE to be. Most important, there was air conditioning, which was a major deal because most people didn’t have A/C in their homes. TV hadn’t gotten cinematic in the way that it is now (there was nothing anywhere close to Game of Thrones), so there wasn’t much in the way of entertainment that could compete with movies. People went to theaters in droves, and movie stars were, like, the most important people on the earth. Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but still.

Why Sharon Tate was so important

Sharon Tate was the starlet of the era. She was stunningly beautiful, incredibly talented, and married to one of the buzziest directors at the time, Roman Polanski (who, I might add, was eventually accused of sexual misconduct and fled the U.S.). Sharon and Roman were, at the time, Hollywood’s golden couple during Hollywood’s Golden Age. A total double whammy.

When Sharon and her friends were tragically murdered by members of the Manson family in 1969, it catalyzed a palpable change in Hollywood. Dominick Dunne, a legendary investigative journalist, described the shift like this:

Actor Navdeep, Co Founder C Space Along With Rakesh Rudravanka – CEO – C Space

“The shock waves that went through the town were beyond anything I had ever seen before. People were convinced that the rich and famous of the community were in peril. Children were sent out of town. Guards were hired. Steve McQueen packed a gun when he went to Jay Sebring’s funeral.”

Quentin Tarantino subverts his audience’s assumption that Tex Watson and the three women with him (all members of Manson’s Family) are on their way to murder Sharon and her friends. Instead, they have a run-in with Rick Dalton, who scolds them for being loud in his cul-de-sac, so they change their minds and return to attack him—not Sharon. This is obviously the film’s critical twist, because in real life, Tex and co. murdered everyone in the Tate/Polanski home that night.

Cliff Booth, Brad Pitt’s character, is able to finish off the Family members in a totally ridiculous fight scene, and the infamous Tate murders are entirely thwarted. Rick, who’s been struggling with his dwindling career, joins Sharon and her friends for a drink at the very end of the film—a moment that seems to suggest he’s finally joining the inner circle of which he’s always wanted to be a part.

Besides the film’s climactic conclusion, everything else in the plot seems pretty historically accurate, so it’s not hard to think Tarantino is attempting to subject his viewers to a thought exercise, one in which the Golden Age of Hollywood wasn’t derailed by Sharon’s murder. What would movies be like today? What would Sharon have done with her career? What would’ve happened to people like Cliff and Rick? What would L.A. even look like? All we can do, of course, is speculate and imagine.

But let’s revisit Tarantino’s original premise. Clearly, he’s sentimental for the Golden Age of Hollywood. It’s not a stretch to conclude that he thinks these were the best years and things haven’t been the same since the era came to a tragic ending. You know what that kind of reminds me of? The intrinsic flaw of President Trump’s Make America Great Again message—the nostalgia for a “great” period that was really only good for white guys.

Margot Robbie has roughly 15 lines in the whole movie, and she’s the only woman to get top billing alongside Brad and Leo. The vast majority of the cast is white, and the film doesn’t acknowledge any of the racial tensions that were happening during the end of that decade.

Tarantino hasn’t talked much about the ending yet himself, so it’s hard to know *exactly* what he intended to message, but to me, his love letter to L.A. reads like a love letter that only certain people can relate to. Which, hey, isn’t that the same criticism that was levied against La La Land?

History proves that people “in the industry” l-o-v-e to make movies about themselves (hello again, La La Land). OUATIH is peak Hollywood nostalgia, as it asks viewers to play a fantastical game of make-believe, which is fine—movies are often tools of entertainment, after all. The thing that Tarantino gets wrong, though, is whether everyone sitting in the theater would even want to return to the 1960s.

I will rate this movie 8/10.

Directed byQuentin Tarantino
Produced byDavid Heyman Shannon McIntosh Quentin Tarantino
Written byQuentin Tarantino
StarringLeonardo DiCaprio Brad Pitt Margot Robbie Emile Hirsch Margaret Qualley Timothy Olyphant Austin Butler Dakota Fanning Bruce Dern Al Pacino
Narrated byKurt Russell
CinematographyRobert Richardson
Edited byFred Raskin
Production
companies
Columbia Pictures Bona Film Group Heyday Films Visiona Romantica
Distributed bySony Pictures Releasing
Release dateMay 21, 2019 (Cannes) July 26, 2019 (United States) August 14, 2019 (United Kingdom)
Running time161 minutes
CountryUnited States United Kingdom
LanguageEnglish
Budget$90–96 million
Box office$371.9 million

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