Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Review

Right up there with Tarantino’s finest work. "Once Upon A Time in Hollywood" is a heartfelt celebration of everything that’s magical about the movies as well as a brutal unearthing of everything disturbing concealed just beneath the surface of Tinseltown.

Tarantino is among the most devoted clergy members at the altar of cinema, and he understands that the movies are essential to making sense of an insensible world. He knows they’re sculpted dreams of hope. And he pits the illusion of storytelling against the chaos of history until one of them has to cry uncle, and maybe not the one you think.

Set in Los Angeles over a couple of days in 1969, Quentin Tarantino’s latest feature "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is a wild cinematic commentary of a moment in pop culture when everything changed and nothing changed at all. In the same way "Inglourious Basterds" deploys a twisted fairy tale structure to serve up an alternate version of historical events where the victims come out on top as the victors.

Those real world events in this film are, of course, the Manson murders and while Tarantino uses them – or more specifically our existing knowledge of them – to conjure up a looming sense of dread, they’re not here to function as yet another cliche symbol to represent the end of the Sixties. If anything, his decision to make murdered actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) one of his main characters and the real heart of the movie goes some way to rescuing her legacy from the true crime narratives that continuously frame her as just the beautiful and pregnant wife of Roman Polanski.

The byplay between DiCaprio and Pitt is incredible and finely drawn — Tarantino clearly understands he’s dealing with two of the only old-school movie stars still working today. But even with these two icons finally coming head to head, the real scene stealing star of the show is Brandy the dog.

Tarantino’s presumed analog is Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an ageing star who feels he's past his prime, lost in the transition between a T.V lead and a movie star. Now Dalton is reduced to playing  guest TV villains while younger bucks play the heroes. Dalton is Chauffeured to and from set by his faithful hype man and sometimes stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, who shines in his full charismatic oddball glory).

Dalton lives on fated Cielo Drive, next door to street's new residents Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), who herself is on the opposite end of the creative spectrum from Dalton, having just made her promising Hollywood debut. While Dalton is mournful and beaten, Tate is all youthful, glowing with hope. Knowing what we know about the real life events surrounding the film, it's leaves a bitter lump in your throat thinking about what could have been.

As for Manson and his gang, they exist on film the way they would have for these characters in life – peripherally. Manson’s half-feral hippie girls hang menacingly at the edge of things, dumpster diving and flashing peace signs at passing cars driving through the neon-lit streets of LA. Rarely has the city looked so beautiful, filled to bursting with pristine film paraphernalia since consigned to antique stores: 35mm film prints in metal canisters, drive-in screens, blazing white and cherry red marquees, looming billboards the size of gods and movie posters hung like fine art.

I thought it was impossible for the film to reach another peak after it's violent and brutal climax, but the movie recovers its balance with a tremendously graceful and heartfelt final scene with a farewell image that stands as one of my favourite moments in Tarantino’s entire filmography.

The movie has an elegiac quality, it’s filled with passionate feeling about the fleeting nature of life and accepting your time at the top doesn't last forever. If Tarantino really does plan to retire after his next film. "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" is one hell of a way to kick off his farewell tour.

 Masters of Cinema Rating - 4½ Stars 

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