“Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” is a love letter to the golden age of moviemaking from a writer and director at the top of his game.
Quentin Tarantino could probably make a movie like this in his sleep. His script is sharp, his directing is entertaining and he’s working with some of the best stars in the industry.
“Once Upon a Time” is the first time we have Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt working side-by-side as charming leading men, and they do a splendid job taking us through this unique time in history.
“Hollywood” is a warm and sometimes glowing period piece, but it’s the dark undercurrent that really brings the film together.
Once upon a time there lived a fading TV cowboy named Rick Dalton, who was struggling to hold onto his career in 1969 Los Angeles.
He and his best friend and stuntman Cliff Booth lived next door to up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate, whose horrific fate is well known to history.
As Rick, Cliff and Sharon go about their days in Tinseltown, the looming specter of Charles Manson and his murderous cult grows ever closer.
It’s that contrast of day-in-the-life storytelling and looming threat that really makes “Once Upon a Time” work as a film. We all know what horrific fate befalls Sharon Tate on the night of Aug. 8, 1969, but we don’t know how fictional characters Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Pitt) are going to factor into the tale.
Tarantino expertly weaves the growing dread into the course of the film, with suspicious hippie girls and Manson himself popping up here and there as the story unfolds. It helps to know in advance what’s going to happen.
To an extent, this also makes the movie a bit slow. It’s not until the climax that the plot and point of “Once Upon a Time” finally arrive. The rest of the nearly 3-hour film is focused on day-to-day stories for the main characters. Fortunately, between the high quality acting and the inventive storytelling of Tarantino, none of the scenes drag. These are fun characters to watch, and the behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood movie-making is neat.
The shocking ending more than makes up for the long wait. “Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” really comes together in the end, capping off this love letter in real Tarantino style.