Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood Is A Messy And Wild Love Letter To…Hollywood

Riot Material
6 min readJul 25, 2019

Reviewed by Kristy Puchko

For his ninth (and possibly penultimate) film, Quentin Tarantino takes audiences back to the summer of 1969, where Hollywood was swinging and hippies seemed a harmless subculture. That is until the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate and her friends in her mansion on Cielo Drive. Blending fact with lots of fiction, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood re-imagines this time as the fairytale its title suggests. But instead of white knights and princes, Tarantino offers stuntmen and TV cowboys. Instead of castles and lavish balls, he presents a celebrity-stuffed party at the Playboy mansion. Instead of an evil sorcerer or monster horde, there’s Charles Manson and his minions. And instead of a princess as a damsel in distress, Tarantino presents an enchanting ingénue who was killed in her prime.

Written and directed by Tarantino, Once Upon A Time…In Hollywood centers on fading star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his loyal stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who is “more than a brother, a little less than a wife” to the borderline has-been. Once the headliner of the TV Western “Bounty Law,” Rick is now scraping by on guest spots and fears his best days are behind him. This pushes him to heavy drinking and tearful public outbursts. But Cliff is ever by his side with whatever Rick needs, be it a kind word, a cigarette, or a driver. Cliff doesn’t think about the future, for better or worse. He’s an impulsive and confident man, who has little patience for the arrogance of others. Which leads him into outrageous scenarios on TV shoots or on the infamous Spahn Ranch.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in Once Upon A Time in…Hollywood

When the film is focusing on these two, it’s Tarantino in his groove. Cliff is familiar Tarantino anti-hero, a tough guy with a dark past and a cool exterior, this time decked in a Hawaiian shirt that covers an array of unexplained yet telling scars. Rick is Cliff’s garrulous and charismatic partner, who’ll play the fool and win laughs, but can turn on a sense of menace when needed. In a sequence involving this fictional actor appearing on the actual Western series Lancer, DiCaprio shifts gears with a breathtaking exuberance. One moment, Rick is having a fantastic freak out in his trailer, smashing things and berating himself for flubbing his…

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