Like all of Quentin Tarantino’s work,“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a movie about nostalgia. This time it’s nostalgia for an era of Hollywood that, in memory at least, was much more innocent. It’s set in 1969, with the Charles Manson Family Murders looming in the background. This series of killings, including actress Sharon Tate and three of her house guests, is one of the defining moments that ended the carefree ’60s and ushered in the depressing ’70s.
“In Hollywood” follows two people in the movie business as they inadvertently get caught up in the killings: Fading TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his trusted, out-of-work stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
For this film, Tarantino brings his love for classic cinema into the main focus. It’s like Tarantino has created his own fantasy world to live in. Here, his fictional characters stand beside real life figures. He clearly wants to spend time in this world and have his characters live in it, which leads to the main drawback of the film.
This movie is almost three hours, and it should not be. We spend too much time watching these characters not do anything important. We see them do things like drive to another location, watch a movie and feeding their dog. And in a movie this long, that much time can’t be wasted.
But when this movie isn’t wasting time, it’s far from boring. There is a real sense of suspense in certain moments, with the dread of the eventual murders always present. Overall, what makes you willing to watch this movie despite its long runtime are the two interesting main characters. While Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) does appear throughout the film, and Tarantino does a great job of getting you invested in her, Dalton and Booth are the main characters.
Like all of Tarantino’s protagonists, they are anti-heroes. Rick Dalton, partly due to his fading acting career, is an out-of-control, self-loathing alcoholic, who is also suicidal. And despite being an action hero both on and offscreen, Cliff Booth’s stuntman career is struggling. No one wants to work with him anymore because he murdered his wife and got away with it.
Yet these two characters are the core that holds the film together. Unlike many Tarantino characters, Dalton and Booth are both likable and compelling, especially when they are together as a team. While they do use each other to get what they want, their relationship doesn’t just exist for self-gain. When it comes down to it, they are true friends. They need each other and make each other better through their friendship. We love them, even though we may ask ourselves if we should like them at all.
DiCaprio is having fun in the role while also giving Dalton a sense of humanity. Pitt is channeling Burt Reynolds, playing Booth as a laid back, confident action hero while making it look like he’s not even trying.
Before I can finish this review, we have to go back to nostalgia. Tarantino blatantly changes history in his movies, as he did in “Inglourious Basterds.” It’s not the fact that Tarantino changes history that is concerning. It’s how he changes it, and why.
Is it so Tarantino can keep living in his dream, the fantasy of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood?” So his nostalgia can never end?
It’s also worth asking the question of why this story is set in 1969 Hollywood in the first place? Is it because it was a more “innocent” time, before scandals like Harvey Weinstein’s rocked the industry? This movie does mark Tarantino’s first film not produced by Weinstein, who gave Tarantino his big break by releasing “Reservoir Dogs.” I don’t think this is entirely a coincidence.
You can see a recurring theme throughout this review, that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” did a really good job handling some things, and a mediocre job handling others. That’s the movie in a nutshell: it’s not perfect, but it works. It’s not as good as some of his other work, but it’s worth comparing to the other strong movies that came out over this summer.