Quentin Tarantino has always been a connoisseur of Hollywood and the concept of filmmaking and storytelling. There’s a certain peculiar magic that comes with creating a narrative and how it allows the creator to do whatever they want. With all of Tarantino’s movies, he’s paid tribute to ideas like Chopsocky cinema, gangster pictures, blaxploitation, and with “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” he pays tribute to Hollywood and the one and only Sharon Tate.
Actor Rick Dalton gained fame and fortune by starring in a 1950s television Western, but is now struggling to find meaningful work in a Hollywood that he doesn’t recognize anymore. He spends most of his time drinking and palling around with Cliff Booth, his best friend, longtime stunt double, and personal assistant. Rick also happens to live next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate — the filmmaker and budding actress whose futures will forever be altered by members of the Manson Family.
“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is one of the many films about the façade and fantasy of Hollywood, punctuated by the excellent pop soundtrack. Much in the vein of “Stardust Memories,” and “The Player,” Tarantino allows the audience to bathe in the realm of La La Land and how it both makes and breaks artists. Leonardo DiCaprio is fantastic as the struggling actor Rick Dalton who is struggling anxiously to change and evolve as an artist as Hollywood’s demand for different content require he either grow or fade in to obscurity. Much of “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” involves Dalton trying to come to terms with the new Hollywood and how much the environment has changed. This is especially true in Jack’s meeting with a young child star who prefers to remain in character during their entire introduction on set.
Much of “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” involves Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth trying to find a place in the changing face of Hollywood. Tarantino brilliantly brushes over the evolution from more serious and demanding work, the rise of kung fu Cinema with the sudden appearance of Bruce Lee (Mike Moh is incredible), and how much young Hollywood has changed its view of working in television and film. Tarantino goes as meta as possible, even casting so many prominent child stars and children of movie stars in small roles including Kurt Russell, Rumor Willis, Maya Hawke, Dakota Fanning, Harley Quinn Smith, and Austin Butler, respectively.
Even stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are able to lend considerable insight in to their performances as they’ve grown and outlasted the image of the child star. “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is bold enough to be as controversial as it is funny, confronting the Manson Family inevitable crimes, and Sharon Tate’s legacy. Thankfully Tarantino doesn’t exploit the horrible murders and prefers to celebrate Sharon Tate and the life and potential she brought to film as a whole. “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” is a wonderful glimpse in to the golden age of Hollywood as is dove in to arguable cynicism with almost no place for escapism. It’s another of Tarantino’s masterpieces, and one I can’t wait to re-visit.