Quentin Tarantino brings us back to 1969 Los Angeles in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In February 1969, fading 1950s television star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is struggling to find work for himself and his stuntman best friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), other than the various villain of the week roles on TV pilots. Dalton happens to live next door to filmmaker Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his new wife actress Sharon Tale (Margot Robbie), who frequently attend parties with Sharon’s friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch). The separate stories of these Hollywood figures come together one night, as the family of Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) comes calling.
For his ninth feature film, Quentin Tarantino returns us to the Hollywood of 1969, as he tells the three concurrent stories of has-been actor Rick Dalton, stuntman Cliff Booth, and actress Sharon Tale. Probably having the latter as one of the main characters is the most interesting narrative decision for Tarantino, given the knowledge that Tate was one of the victims of the infamous Manson Family murders in the summer of 1969. Indeed, Charles Manson and his hippie followers lurk in the background throughout the film, with there even being a side-plot of Cliff Booth picking up a hitchhiking family member (Margaret Qualley) and gives her a ride to Spahn Ranch. Then, of course, there’s the climax of the film, where Tarantino decides to rewrite history a bit with his depiction of that fateful night on August 9, 1969.
For nearly three decades, Quentin Tarantino has presented us with his brand of snappy dialogue, ultra-violence, and in some cases, alternate takes on history. Tarantino has repeatedly stated that his plans to retire after ten films, so Once Upon a Time in Hollywood could very well be one of the final films we see from the auteur and indeed the film has the Tarantino formula down to a T, from the extended conversations to the classic rock soundtrack, and even the fetishizing shots of women’s bare feet.
While I still generally like Tarantino’s films, it is probably safe to say at this point that he peaked creatively a decade ago with Inglourious Basterds, which also happened to be the director’s previous collaboration with Brad Pitt. While Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is very much a Tarantino movie, it is nowhere near my favourite Tarantino movie. The film is very vignette heavy, with there being a lot of non-sequitur scenes, such as Cliff Booth getting a scuffle with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) or Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) explaining the love triangle between Roman Polanski, Sharon Tate, and Jay Sebring. Then there’s the usual Tarantino stunt casting, with there being small roles for the likes of Al Pacino, Timothy Olyphant, and Luke Perry, in his final film role, as well as appearances from Tarantino alumni Michael Madsen, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern.
When it is all said an done, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is a film that I quite enjoyed watching, however, I probably wouldn’t rank it too high compared with the other films in Tarantino’s filmography. If Tarantino truly has only one more film to go out on, he better make it a doozy.