Sunday, January 12, 2020


Quentin Tarantino's ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD is a triumph.  Indeed it may be my favourite of his films since the superlative JACKIE BROWN.  It's a love letter to old Hollywood, and drips with compassion for fading stars, and indulges in nostalgia for the days when radio stations were the soundtrack of our lives.  The movie stars Leonardo Di Caprio as Rick Dalton  - a fictional TV star of the 50s and 60s whose career is in the doldrums because of his age and alcoholism.  As a portrait of the fickle callousness of the star system, it's a moving film. There isn't much that's honourable or likeable in Rick, but he's our idiot, and to see him bested in his art and conversation by a child star (Trudi - a scene-stealing Julia Butters) is to weep for him. To see him lured by the quick cash of Spaghetti Westerns and saddled with a young wife is to laugh at our own frailty. He's an idiot, but we care that he's okay.  And we care largely because of the most humanising thing about him - his long and loyal friendship to his stuntman/driver/buddy Cliff Booth. In a career-best performance from Brad Pitt, Cliff is just a decent no bullshit kind of a guy. He's tough.  We see him beat up Bruce Lee in one of the most hilarious scenes in the film, and we hear rumours about a potentially murderous past, so the final showdown is well within the realms of his capabilities, despite his being high as a kite. There's something so tragic about his life in a mobile van, heating up tinned food, and something so likeable about his seeming indifference to it.  He's just a good guy. We see this too in his care for Bruce Dern's Spahn - exploited owner of the ranch in which the Manson Family are living. Which of course brings us to the other story in this film...

I think a lot of us came to this film thinking it was going to be a film about the Manson Murders and it's kind of discombobulating realising that it isn't really. We only meet Manson in one scene, and barely see Polanski from a distance at a party.  Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) live next door to Rick, but their lives are largely separate.   And what of Tate?  She's barely given the same screen time or depth of character as the two male leads. She's just a sunny happy dancing blonde, exciting to see herself on screen, in a scene that will give anyone who knows about Tarantino's foot fetish the creeps.  I felt sad for Robbie, who has nothing to do in this film, but really sad for Sharon Tate, who apparently isn't worthy of an inner life.  We do see the events of that fateful night play out. The way in plays out won't surprise people who've seen Tarantino's recent films.  It's really fucking entertaining.  But...

ONCE UPON A TIME...IN HOLLYWOOD is rated R and has a running time of 119 minutes.  The film played Cannes 2019 and went on global release last summer. It is now available to stream, rent and own.

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