Tarantino sets the film in 1969 – Hollywood’s golden age that is seeing big changes happening. His central characters are aging television cowboy Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio – Inception, The Departed) and his out-of-favour stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt – Mr & Mrs. Smith, Moneyball). Living next door to Dalton is star-on-the-rise Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie – Suicide Squad, The Wolf Of Wall Street).
Life for the two households couldn’t be more different. Dalton reflects on the days when he was a television star while he now treats bit parts in television pilots like they are the answer to his resurrection. Then there his is best buddy Cliff Booth who only gets work through Dalton and even then that is tainted due to the story going around that he killed his wife. Then you have Tate whose career is taking off, she is on the verge of something big. What the three don’t know is their lives are about to be changed in a way that they could never expect.
The release of a Quinton Tarantino movie is now considered a cinematic event. It’s funny when a new Marvel movie is about to be released you see red carpets galore yet outside of America Tarantino’s movie just creep into cinemas, even the media screenings are 10am affairs with no big fanfare. Yet somewhere deep down inside every movie lover there is a sense that something special is about to happen. Let’s be blunt for a moment – Tarantino never makes boring films and he certainly hasn’t made a bad movie yet.
Now maybe I am in the minority because I prefer Jackie Brown to Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained to Inglorgious Basterds but I have unashamed love for the work of Tarantino and every time I go to see one of his movies for the first time I find myself turning into that little kid that I used to be when I eagerly anticipated movies like E.T. and Gremlins coming on TV again. The great news is that with Once Upon A Time In Hollywood Tarantino reaches out to his true fans with a brilliant masterpiece, but be warned it may leave casual cinema goers a little perplexed.
If the synopsis makes the film sound like a character piece, that is because that is exactly what you get with this film. If you are looking for another Tarantino shoot ‘em up then look elsewhere because for three-quarters of this film the screenplay allows the audience to almost be a fly on the wall of the friendship between Dalton and Booth. Tarantino has no qualms showing Dalton have a lengthy conversation with a young actress (played brilliantly by Julia Butters) on the set of his new pilot and nor should he. When you have the screenwriting abilities of Mr. Tarantino there is no problem creating a heavily dialogue driven movie that at times wouldn’t feel out of place being a stage-play.
Perhaps what makes this film so special though is Tarantino’s eye-to-detail and the pay offs that true cinema fans will get from his references. From actual radio ads of the time playing on car radios, a killer soundtrack and appearances from greats like Bruce Lee (Mike Moh – Empires, Inhuman) and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis – Homeland, Band Of Brothers) this perhaps one of the greatest cinematic tributes to this era of time and is something that will be long remembered.
As usual Tarantino also brings out the best in his cast. While some people may be disappointed that Robbie doesn’t get more screen time her screen presence is enough to counter-act that. Make no mistake though this is the DiCaprio and Pitt show. The on-screen chemistry between the two makes Dalton and Booth one of the best buddy relationships that Hollywood has ever seen. The two men also completely embrace their roles. As usual DiCaprio completely dissolves into being the character he is playing and this time he takes Pitt with him. Fans of movies like Moneyball will know that Pitt is not just the pretty-boy actor he used to be but here we see Pitt find another acting range and he matches DiCaprio in every scene they share.
While Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is different to anything that Tarantino has ever done before this movie can be summed up in one word – a masterpiece. Not many directors can pull off a film that is largely dialogue driven and then explodes with a graphic thrilling finale like this film does – but then is there anything that Mr Tarantino can’t do. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is pure cinematic bliss for serious cinema lovers.