Once Upon a Time in Hollywood from renowned writer/director Quentin Tarantino is an interesting film.
Is it a masterpiece? No.
Does it measure up to his two modern classics Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction? No.
Is it at least good? In parts.
Set in 1969, the initial story is interesting enough as it explores the relationship between Hollywood leading man Rick Dalton and his stunt double Cliff Booth.
Dalton, played effectively by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a former television star of the 1950’s Western series Bounty Law. Since the cancellation of his series, Dalton has struggled for work – most recently playing the villain in a series of television guest spots. Fearing that his career is over, he is considering playing the lead in Spaghetti Westerns (in the vein of A Fistful of Dollars).
Booth, played wonderfully by Brad Pitt, is a stuntman who specializes in doubling for Dalton, who has also become his best friend. As Dalton’s career has begun to slide, the opportunities for Booth have also begun to dwindle. He makes ends meet by serving as Dalton’s driver and errand boy.
This part of the movie works. I’ve always thought DiCaprio and Pitt should play brothers in a film due to their similar appearances. While they aren’t brothers in this picture, the film does capitalize on their physical similarities.
The world of has-been actors done in the right hands is always fascinating. The world of stuntmen is also an interesting sub-genre.
The best scene in the film is an impromptu face off between Pitt’s Booth and Bruce Lee. Lee is played spot on by Mike Moh, who not only looks identical to Lee, but also has his speech and physicality down pat.
The film loses its way with the incorporation of the Manson Family – a real life group of cult members turned murderers who follow the teachings of Charles Manson. In addition to adding no value to the picture, the use of the Manson Family also segues into a stark deviation from the actualities of history – something Tarantino also did in his film Inglorious Bastards.
While I’m not opposed to pictures that deviate from history, it has to be done effectively. In this case, it isn’t.
Of course, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood wouldn’t be a Tarantino film if it didn’t include at least one scene of glorified violence. I must say, the designated scene of graphic violence in this film is by far the best of any Tarantino film so far. It is deliciously violent and creatively done.
The film is stock full of cameos including Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Zoe Bell, Michael Madsen, and Rumer Willis. While the story goes awry, the acting throughout is still exceptional. Lewis’ take on Steve McQueen is particularly impressive.
As with all Tarantino films, there are fun fictional brand names. In this case the standout is “Wolf’s Tooth” dog food that comes in rat and racoon flavors.
Tarantino remains one of my favorite film directors, but this one just doesn’t measure up to the hype.
Would I see Once Upon a Time in Hollywood again? Maybe on Netflix. But I wouldn’t pay money to see it again.
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