Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood ★★★★½

Quentin Tarantino says he's gonna throw in the towel after only 10 films, and "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," is his 9th film. And it might as well have been his last, because its a movie that so perfectly sums up the entirety of his own career, that it doesn't quite feel like a parody, and it doesn't quite feel like homage. It's more like a "Greatest hits" album, collecting all of his best scenes, tropes and references, and throwing them into a single epic track list for us to enjoy. There's a self awareness, that becomes even more evident, as we work our way down the list, and admire just how much of a cognizant filmmaker he truly is.

As it opens we follow two leading characters, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, both played respectively by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, as they tackle the highs and lows of Hollywood stardom. In fact, Rick's career seems to be in full swing, straight into the gutter that is, as an inquiring talent agent, played by Al Pacino, encourages him to star in a new trend of Italian spaghetti westerns. To Rick, this means the death of his career, if he ever had one to begin with. Cliff plays the helping hand quite effectively. As he carefully listens and consoles his friends complaints, and then quite plainly says, "I never had much a career to begin with. But going to Italy to star in Italian movies doesn't sound like a fate worse than death." It's clear these two were made for each other.

We go along with them, as they shoot their shots, and make their plays. While Quentin Tarantino even employs dates and times, and historical locations, suggesting when and where these events could've taken place, giving an almost eclectic quality to the scope and feel of his film. In short, it's a loving tribute to the late actress Mrs. Sharon Tate, as well as a hilarious buddy comedy about a pair of try-hard has-been's. It's a period piece, of a time and place. And even, a character study that tackles alcoholism, and the fragile egos of forgotten Hollywood stars. While also managing to be a pretty good Western. Not to mention, it has a dreamlike quality that gives credence to the movies title.

There isn't a single thing that Quentin Tarantino doesn't try, and it all works. He juggles multiple genres, like a circus clown on a unicycle balancing a ball on his nose and throwing juggling pins. After a while, you can't help but admire the brevity of his immense talent. He also makes a bold move with the casting of Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate. Allowing her to create more of soulful impression of the late starlet. Which in turn, makes her seem more convincing and down to earth, rather than say, larger than life. It feels more touching, for being played straight. There aren't any big moments. She doesn't give a big speech. And yet, we feel more connected with her than perhaps any other character in the whole movie. Steve McQueen surmises Quentin Tarantino's own feelings, as we realize how sincerely a loss to the movies she really was.

Of course, it's not really about Sharon Tate, so much as, the fantasy so many dreamers willingly chase. And while some people are optimist, some are not. In the case of Rick Dalton, who drowns himself in self doubt, and self pity. And several funny scenes feature him in fits of anger that show his entitlement. Which is brilliantly contrasted against Brad Pitts own lifestyle, who works as a stuntman, and lives in a trailer park with his cute pooch named Brandy. We spend a lot of time with both Rick and Cliff. And while Rick's character is given a healthy serving of brilliantly written scenes, Cliff is left wandering the stark landscapes of Hollywood's forgotten past, encountering some pretty shady characters along the way.

There's a scene in "Pulp Fiction," where the camera follows Jules and Vincent down a hallway, and tracks with them to the place where they're about to do their dirty work. This whole movie kind of feels like that scene. It never really goes for big, loud, or over the top moments. So when things really do happen, it catches us off guard. Nevertheless, Quentin Tarantino more or less creates an effortlessly chill movie. It's the ultimate hangout movie, as you're literally just hanging out, or tagging along for the ride. For instance, you get to spend time with Sharon Tate at Playboy mansion, or watch a movie with her, or you can be on set with Rick Dalton talking about how he blew his chance to be on The Dirty Dozen, or follow Cliff Booth and see what he gets up too.

Quentin Tarantino sets up one amazing pay off after another, as he keeps us hooked and entertained. But he's not afraid to cut lose, and take a detour along the way. After all, who else would've given scene stealing cameos to both Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee, and still manage to avoid getting sidetracked? Quentin Tarantino says he's only one film away from his last. But as a director whose as wildly unpredictable and exciting as his own characters, it'll be interesting to see if he stays the course. Regardless, Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," is a timeless classic that's built to last. His characters are unforgettable, and forever burned into our minds by the directors effortless imagination.

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