Even the media screenings are 10am affairs with no big fanfare. Yet somewhere deep down inside every movie lover, there is a sense that something special is about to happen. Let’s be blunt for a moment – Tarantino never makes boring films and he certainly hasn’t made a bad movie yet.
Now maybe I am in the minority because I prefer Jackie Brown to Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained to Inglourious Basterds, but I have unashamed love for the work of Tarantino, and every time I go to see one of his movies for the first time, I find myself turning into that little kid that I used to be when I eagerly anticipated movies like E.T. and Gremlins coming on TV again. The great news is that with Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, Tarantino reaches out to his true fans with a brilliant masterpiece, but be warned that it may leave casual cinemagoers a little perplexed.
Tarantino sets the film in 1969 – Hollywood’s golden age and a time of great change. His central characters are ageing television cowboy Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio – Inception, The Departed) and his out-of-favour stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt – Mr. & Mrs. Smith, Moneyball). Living next door to Dalton is star-on-the-rise Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad, The Wolf of Wall Street).
Life for the two households couldn’t be more different. Dalton reflects on the days when he was a television star while he now treats bit parts in television pilots like they are the answer to his resurrection. Then there’s his best buddy Cliff Booth who only gets work through Dalton, and even then it’s tainted due to rumours circulating that he killed his wife. Then you have Tate whose career is taking off; she’s on the verge of something big. What the three don’t know is that their lives are about to be changed in a way that they could never expect (a twist that the director would rather we do not disclose...)
The synopsis certainly makes the film sound like a character piece, and that’s exactly what you get. If you are looking for another Tarantino shoot-em-up, then look elsewhere because for three-quarters of this film the screenplay allows the audience to almost be a fly on the wall of the friendship between Dalton and Booth.
Tarantino has no qualms showing Dalton have lengthy conversations with those around him, including a young actress (played brilliantly by 10-year-old Julia Butters) on the set of his new pilot, and nor should he. When you have the screenwriting abilities of Mr Tarantino, there is no problem creating a dialogue-driven movie that at times wouldn’t feel out of place being a stage play.
Perhaps what makes this film so special, though, is Tarantino’s attention to detail and the payoffs that true cinema fans will get from his references. From actual adverts of the time playing on car radios, to a killer soundtrack, to appearances from greats like Bruce Lee (Mike Moh – Empire, Inhumans) and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis – Homeland, Band of Brothers), this is perhaps one of the greatest cinematic tributes to the era and as such will be long remembered.
As usual, Tarantino also brings out the best in his cast. While some people may be disappointed that Robbie doesn’t get more screen time, her sheer screen presence is enough to counteract that. Make no mistake, though, this is the DiCaprio and Pitt show. The on-screen chemistry between the two makes Dalton and Booth one of the best buddy relationships that Hollywood has ever seen.
The two actors also completely embrace their roles. As usual, DiCaprio dissolves into his character, and this time he takes Pitt with him. Fans of movies like Moneyball will know that Pitt is not just the pretty boy actor he used to be; here we see Pitt find another acting range and he matches DiCaprio in every scene they share.
While Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is different to anything that Tarantino has ever done before, this movie can be summed up in one word: masterpiece. Not many directors can pull off a film that is largely dialogue driven and then explodes with a graphic thrilling finale like this film does – but then is there anything that Tarantino can’t do? Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is pure cinematic bliss for serious cinema lovers.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus