Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood (2019)
R | 2h 41min | Comedy, Drama | 26 July 2019 (USA)
Synopsis: A faded television actor and his stunt double strive to achieve fame and success in the film industry during the final years of Hollywood’s Golden Age in 1969 Los Angeles.
Review: Is ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD the early front runner for best picture? There were several times while watching this fabulous tale of vocational mortality, unrelenting friendship, and pop culture saturation when I said to myself “yes, this has to be the film of the year!”. But there were also moments when I just knew that it was too much. Like when you devour a delicious meal and then hate the thought of food five minutes later. In the moment you can’t get enough but then you regret the indulgence. Twenty Four hours later though I can still taste this film and having had time to separate from it I now want nothing more than to sit back at the table and feast. I miss it. I need it. There are going to be movies that move us more, make us cry, laugh, and entertain us to the fullest. But none made like this one.
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino I personally think it is his best work to date. This says a lot about a man who already has a couple of Oscars under his belt not to mention a film legacy that will long be remembered on numerous lists. But this one felt special. It felt as if with this one he allowed us to not only enter the eccentric part of his mind but the very tender part of his soul that longs for nostalgia and a time not too long ago. But at the same time he never lets us forget that he colors outside the lines and cares not about rules and regulations. It is his film and his story and to heck with polite society. Sort of like if Mike Tyson gave you a hug but then bit your ear off as a reminder that he is still not to be messed with. Or something like that.
I was alive in 1969 but just barely. I would like to think I was at least toddling around by then. But much of the look and feel of that time bled into the 70s. I was immediately reminded of my hippie cousins and how groovy I thought they were. When a woman’s unshaved arm pit can make you fondly recall the amazing ladies of your youth; that says a lot. Needless to say that this film oozes the bygone era of gas guzzlers, drug droppers, and the wonder that was network driven, cable-less television. And it is in that world that we come to know Tarantino’s leading men.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a James Garner sort of character actor. Made a household name by his popular TV western series he now finds himself having to re-brand to stay alive. His long time friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) has stayed by his side through it all. Sort of a Sam to Rick’s Frodo. Cliff is his driver, handyman, and confidant. Where Rick is flamboyant and often neurotic Cliff is the voice of reason. Anyone who has ever struggled with insecurities and self doubt understand how important a Cliff can be. Though Dalton is the main focus of the film there are so many other layers that make this film what it is.
As with many of Quentin’s films you can’t watch it in the traditional way. You need multiple buckets in order to catch the streams of consciousness that cascade from his mind and come at you from every direction. You must be able to allow yourself to be moved and jerked around with little or no notice. Like riding an old wooden rollercoaster blindfolded. You can’t see the turns and dips so you have to relax and allow your body to go with the motion. If you resist it you will be beaten and bloodied by the time it is over. Not to mention frustrated and disoriented. If there was ever a cinematic journey to enjoy it is this one.
DiCaprio finally got his Oscar a few years back and this is the movie we have been wanting him to make. Now that he has the golden monkey off his back he is free to get a little bit weird. He delivers scene after scene after scene in this one that reminds us what it means to act. Not to perform or to mimic. Not to pander. But to just freaking act. You have to realize that there are so many movies within this movie. That alone we could write a book about. And Leo has to perform in each one of them while still performing as the main character. We are talking major Kirk Zazarus stuff here. And he does it seamlessly. It is as if Tarantino was able to upload his visionary software right into the database of DiCaprio. It was fascinating to watch.
I always try and not give away too much of a films plot or arch so that everyone can see it with the same fresh eyes. But I will go so far as to say that the real life people and events that Tarantino has woven into his script is another element in this film that makes it clever and unique. One story that runs alongside that of Cliff and Rick is the Manson family and the crimes of August 8th 1969. A once upon a time what if parallel. I lost track of the familiar names that are introduced in this story and the a-list actors who bring them to brief life.
I have written so much about this film and not even scratched the surface. The painstaking lengths that went into creating 1969 LA is mind blowing. The cars, building, businesses. Clothes, hairstyles, dialogue. Nothing is overlooked or short changed. Never once does the film have to apologize for cutting a corner or leaving a detail undone. When it comes to text book filmmaking it is pretty much perfect. I am seeing a lot on online haters and if you want to buy into every opinion that is fine. Mine is just one of many. Very few times have I walked away from a film feeling like I witnessed something special and unmatchable. To be honest I am not sure how Tarantino pulled it off. He obviously had the trust of his actors and the support of everyone attached to it. But the end result is something we wil all be talking about for sometime. And when you see it, you won’t forget it.
I could keep writing but I am tired and if you made it this far you are probably tired of reading. So lat thing to note, it is rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references. It is 100% a Quentin Tarantino film. Don’t be fooled otherwise.