Quentin Tarantino’s oddball bromance is a violent and gilded ode to late 1960s Tinseltown.
A Cadillac screeching around Sunset Boulevard. Barefoot hippies in rainbow crochet stealing pickles out of dumpsters. Acid-tainted cigarettes. And a languid cover of Mamas & Papas’ “California Dreamin’” almost palpably swirling leaves around the streets. Quentin Tarantino has cited his ninth film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood as his “love letter” to movies, and that much is clear as the auteur casts his signature attention-to-detail gilded glow over a halcyon version of Los Angeles and the filmmaking industry in the late 1960s. The glamour and frivolities are undercut with the presence of cult leader Charles Manson, his notorious Spahn Ranch, and our knowledge of the real-life Tate-LaBianca murders, the dynamite in the film from which the fuse burns slowly.
With Tarantino we’ve come to expect razor-sharp dialogue, intense crescendos of violence and some questionable humour, as well as some liberties taken with history (Inglorious Basterds, exhibit A) – but the end of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood sees a twist that could be viewed as both nostalgic and optimistic. For a clue, consider the old age fairytale title…
Read our breakdown of Once Upon A Time In Hollywood below…
WHAT: We follow fading, alcoholic film star Rick Dalton (Leonard DiCaprio) and his faithful stunt double/broseph Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they navigate their declining popularity in the entertainment industry’s epicentre. At the same time, Booth’s next door neighbours, director Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate – who Margot Robbie plays with fervour as a dialogue-less wide-eyed blinking doll of niceties – are at the peaks of their careers, attending glitzy parties at the Playboy Mansion. As the film hurtles – well, meanders leisurely – towards the date we all know so well, 10 August (the night of the murders), we come to realise that not is all as it seems.
WHERE: Just like tourists, Tarantino only affords us surface-level glimpses at the shimmering whistle stops. The western sets. Rick Dalton’s hills pad complete with a tiki bar. The Playboy Mansion. Even Charles Manson’s sprawling Spahn Ranch has a quaint western feel, with boarded-up shops and the like.
STAR OF THE SHOW: Leonardo DiCaprio as an ageing film star past his prime is utter career brilliance – and never has the actor possessed so much self-awareness. He is a social climber, sloppy, almost vengefully hard on himself. Hilarious.
WHO TO WATCH IT WITH: Your colleague, the one perennially dressed in roll necks, says “bro” way too much, and has debatable views about women, which intensify with finger-jabbing into your shoulder once he’s had too many glasses of shiraz. He also LOVES feet, which Once Upon A Time In Hollywood caters for – thrice.
STAND-OUT SCENE: The incredibly violent climax, which pushes the pedal to the metal, and throws us out through the windshield, glass, flamethrower and all.
WATCH IF: You love pretty things and a starry cast (Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, the late Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, Emile Hirsch, Lena Dunham). And notice the next gen of Hollywood stars: Maya Hawke (Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke’s daughter) and Margaret Qualley (Andie MacDowell’s daughter).
DON’T WATCH IF: While it may be Tarantino’s love letter to the era, it omits. The cast noticeably has very few people of colour, and it’s painful to watch a scene where masterful kung-fu legend Bruce Lee is reduced to a crumpled mess by sluggish stunt double Brad Pitt, who challenges him for a lark (HE COULD NEVER). And of course, the regular feature of Tarantino films: gratuitous violence to women. From repeated hearsay about Brad Pitt’s character “killing his wife and getting away with it”, to a scene where we then see him calmly use blunt force to obliterate a woman’s face against pretty much every surface top of his condo, a dog mauling, and then DiCaprio, using a flamethrower (prop memorabilia from an earlier war film previously reserved for Nazis) and gleefully crisping a female intruder.
WONDERLAND REVIEW: 2/5