Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Love him or hate him: Tarantino is marmite. On the whole I love him; the violence is so stylised I can’t take it seriously: I particularly admire Pulp Fiction (obviously!) Django Unchained and Inglorious Basterds.
The trailer for this movie made my mouth water in anticipation of a box of delights. what could be more appetising than the maestro producing a paen to Hollywood?
Alas, my hunger was not satisfied. The vehicle of the fading actor and his stunt double, a delightful two-hander from Leo DiCaprio as the alcoholic has-been cowboy and Brad Pitt as his long-suffering friend and stand-in, carries the movie quite a long way; it provides some feel-good bromance moments, some witty repartee and great characters. Pitt and DiCaprio so loved working together that they wish to repeat the experience – and it shows.
Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) is star-struck when Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) move in nextdoor. Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) pays them a visit early on, looking for the former occupiers, giving a sense of what is to come. Poor drunk old Rick, with his stammer, unable to remember his lines in his latest show Lancer, is no longer the former hero of his heyday but a type-cast baddie with a floundering career; his agent Marvin Schwarz (don’t pronounce the ‘z’ – a great cameo by Al Pacino) farms him out to spaghetti westerns in desperation.
Meanwhile the underused stuntman, Cliff Booth (Pitt) comes across Manson’s hippy commune when he picks up alluring underage Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) who are squatting in the set of the old ranch where Rick’s famous series Bounty Law was shot, so there is an anticipation of a plot intersection at some stage.
But, but, but…the movie self-indulgently meanders along, with some saving set pieces along the way: the show-stealing moment when fellow eight-year old ‘actor’ Trudi (Julia Butters) tells Rick after their scene together, ‘that was the best acting I’ve seen for years’; the other being the simply hilarious duel fought between Cliff and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). And there are others like the party at Hugh Heffner’s mansion, and all the scenes with Brandy, Cliff’s pit-bull who is a talented actor.
The best sport is spotting the cameos for Tarantino has no difficulty in getting Hollywood to turn up for his movies. Here we have Damien Lewis as Steve McQueen; Bruce Dern playing the ranch owner held captive by Manson’s gang; Michael Madson as a sheriff; the late Luke Perry as his oppo in Lancer, and of course Tarantino’s characteristic cameo. Then there are the bit parts played by Lena Dunham, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning and Pacino of course. Quite an ensemble.
Margot Robbie is cute as Sharon Tate. Pretty, pouting, vain (love the scene where she goes to see her own movie) and a great girl-next-door – so much so that one is dreading the violent dénouement which takes a long time in coming. Tarantino spent time with Tate’s sister who was happy with his treatment of Sharon, and even lent Robbie some of Sharon’s jewellery as she was so impressed by her craftsmanship.
But I did wonder if Tarantino’s point in this over-long study of Hollywood was more than a fond look at the good old days – Robert Richardson’s cinematography redolent of the sandy palette of westerns, and lovingly pans over Hollywood signs and period cars; filmsets the way they used to be, cardboard frontages being rolled on and off set as required; all against a glorious 60s soundtrack which had me tapping my toes throughout.
Harking back to those macho days, where the women are either bimbos, seductresses or a monstrous regiment of evil hippies/harpies, could be seen as a comment on contemporary Hollywood where #metoo has taken over and the good guys are long gone. I don’t know if that’s his intention, but I thought the Coens did it much better – and were much funnier – in Hail Caesar.