Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells a story in a once in a lifetime way
“We’re not in Wonderland anymore Alice” – Charles Manson
“My whole life has been decided by fate” – Sharon Tate
The ninth film from writer/director Quentin Tarantino is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. It draws inspiration from people and events that transpired between February and August of 1969. But it is fiction and that should be remembered from the outset.
It was the time when Charles Manson (Damon Herriman – The Lone Ranger) was operating out of the Spahn Movie Ranch in the San Fernando Valley. When the career of Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie – I, Tonya) was advancing after her strong turn in The Wrecking Crew. When “Rick Dalton” (Leonardo DeCaprio – The Wolf of Wall Street) is seeing his career as an actor going into a steep decline. When “Cliff Booth” (Brad Pitt – (The Big Short) may no longer be able to make a living as Rick’s stunt-double/driver-factotum.
Rick Dalton was the star of a 1950s western TV series titled “Bounty Law.” But in 1969 his career is doing one-offs as the ‘heavy’ on TV westerns. While his star has declined, he made one very smart move early in his career. He’d purchased his home on Cielo Drive in the exclusive Benedict Canyon area of Los Angeles.
Then “Marvin Schwarz” (Al Pacino – Stand Up Guys) enters Rick’s life. He’s seen Rick in an episode of “The F.B.I.” and says that Rick could do well making spaghetti westerns in Italy. Given the opportunity to pad his bank balance, he takes Cliff along for the adventure. After making four movies in six months, Rick comes home with a new wife, “Francesca Capucci” (Lorenza Izzo – Aftershock).
Before going to Italy, Cliff had seen “Pussycat” (Margaret Qualley – The Nice Guys) several times while driving around Hollywood. She was always hitchhiking and Cliff finally offered her a ride. He drove her out to the Spahn Movie Ranch. He’d worked there in the 50s on Bounty Law. Things went well until he insisted on saying hello to George Spahn (Bruce Dern – Nebraska) who owns and lives on the ranch. Pussycat tells Cliff that George is napping. So does Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (Dakota Fanning – Ocean’s 8). After he finally sees George, who does not remember him, Cliff encounters some difficulty departing the ranch. But he finally leaves in Rick’s Caddy.
What really happened on August 9, 1969? Manson Family members Charles Denton “Tex” Watson Jr, Susan Atkins, Linda Kasabian and Patricia Krenwinkel drove to the home at 10050 Cielo Drive. The home shared by Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate. On this night, Polanski was in London working on a movie. Tate was home with Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Frykowski’s girlfriend Abigail Folger. The four were brutally murdered, along with 18 year old Steven Parent. Tate, who was roughly two weeks away from giving birth was stabbed 16 times.
The ending of QT’s fictional story has nothing to do with that reality. I won’t spoil it, other than to say it is one of the best sequences of brutal violence in any of his films.
If there was a word stronger than homage to use, I would use it. This film is QT’s homage to Hollywood, schlock movies and TV shows, and the music/ambience of that era. The use of music and DJ sound/jock shouts from 93 KHJ’s “Boss Radio” are inspired. Margot Robbie is underutilized but still wonderful as Sharon Tate. The chemistry between DiCaprio and Pitt is so good that I wonder why no one paired them up before. There are a few anachronistic errors, most notably the presence of Tate and Polanski at a party at the famed Playboy Mansion. Hugh Hefner did not purchase that magnificent property until 1971. But those are minor quibbles that do not detract from the awesomeness of this cinematic achievement.
I’ll see it again.