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Movie Review: Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Banners: Columbia Pictures, Bona Film Group, Heyday Films, Visiona Romantica

Producers: David Heyman, Shannon McIntosh, Quentin Tarantino

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo Di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Damian Lewis, Lena Dunham, Al Pacino

Writer: Quentin Tarantino

What do you expect from a Quentin Tarantino movie? A storyline that is completely out of the box. Check. Superstars exploring an avenue that they have not before. Check. And an ending which will leave you speechless. Check. All the classic Tarantino elements can be seen in his latest film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. The Oscar Award winning filmmaker brings two great Hollywood actors, Brad Pitt and Leonardo Di Caprio, together to pay tribute to what is considered the golden era of Hollywood.

The film is about Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. Rick is a has-been star of Western movies and TV shows who is out of work in 1969. He tries to get his credibility back with his long-time friend and stuntman Cliff by side. While Rick has an outrageous, Hollywood lifestyle, Cliff is satisfied with his low-profile living. The other significant character in this story is that of actress Sharon Tate. She and her filmmaker husband Roman Polanski moved to a house next to Rick’s in Los Angeles. Rick wishes to be friends with them but there is no opportunity for them to meet. While Cliff continues to support Rick and his insecurities, he encounters a hippy teenager who takes him to the Spahn Ranch. Cliff has an inkling about something being off there as he is introduced to the members of the cult called the Manson family. Cliff goes back to Rick who has now found a new wave of confidence and is offered to be part of Italian Western movies. Rick and Cliff travel together through this journey for months and when they come back to LA with Rick’s new Italian wife in tow, they encounter an incident, which leaves everyone appalled. Sharon, now eight months pregnant, sees this commotion in her neighbourhood and shows concern. How this entire circle comes to a close, redefining the friendship of Rick and Cliff, is what forms the crux of the story.

As all Tarantino films go, the narrative of OUATIH is also non-linear. The back-and-forth of the story keeps the audience attentive and waiting with bated breath for what happens next.

The director pays homage to the Hollywood of the 1960s in the most authentic way possible. The tone of the retro era is set right from the first slate of the film where the old-time logo of Columbia Pictures appears.

The film serves as a sort of time machine that takes you back in the’60s Hollywood with the neon lit boulevards of LA, the parties at the Playboy mansion, the drive-in theatres and conversations about watching 35mm films.

Tarantino has taken the real world charm of his film industry and blended it with a fictionalised version. Several key players in the script, from Sharon Tate to Roman Polanski to Steve McQueen to Jay Sebring to Bruce Lee, Michelle Phillips and others are real life characters but the two protagonists, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are fictional. The maker has placed Dalton and Booth into this ‘real world’ as incidents that changed the face of cinema in the West in 1969 smartly unfold on screen. The night of August 9, 1969, which still holds weightage in US, has been reimagined and presented in a somewhat, Tarantino-style idealistic way.

Needless to say, the writing of the film is crisp and strong. Tarantino has a knack of bringing out the subtle humour in situations. With the towering talent of Pitt and Di Caprio he has been able to get it out brilliantly.

The beauty of the narrative is the flawed characters that hold the film on their shoulders. The vices that plagued the era of ‘60s in America are blatantly shown. Small things like the insecurity a forgotten actor might have, the realization of his issues and how he seeks approval from everyone around him including an eight year old child artiste are presented beautifully. The vulnerability of him mixed with arrogance of his partner Cliff as he loses out on a job of a film just because he picked a fight with the lead actor, Bruce Lee, shows the dichotomy of their personalities.

The production design of the film by Barbara Ling becomes a character in itself as it plays a major part in bringing the story to life. The Hollywood sets of yesteryear Western movies, the elements of vintage cars and theatres, everything adds a flavour to the era the film is set in and DoP Robert Richardson captures it in a beautiful way along with some scenes in the 35mm camera that Tarantino personally favours. The background score of the film adds to the retro feel of the film.

Tarantino always goes one step above and beyond his previous film and four years after his Academy award nominated The Hateful Eight, he has gone a notch higher with OUATIH.

Performance-wise, to say that Leonardo Di Caprio is good in the film is an understatement. The actor is known to shed his own personality and mould himself into the character that he plays and he has done just that with Rick Dalton. Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth is not as expressive as his counter-part but the actor brings out the best with his smouldering stares, sarcastic smirks and intense expressions. Margot Robbie embodies the beauty and the unconventional behavior of the real Sharon Tate. Emile Hirsch is good as Jay Sebring and so is Margaret Qualley as the Manson family’s Pussycat. Austin Butler as Tex Watson was eerie which is just what his character called for. A lot of powerhouse actors have been part of the film in small but pivotal roles. Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Damian Lewis, Lena Dunham and of course Al Pacino all make a significant impact in the story with their respective parts.

Verdict: This is every cinephile’s dream come true.

Rating: ***1/2

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