I love the work of Quentin Tarantino. His scripts and directing bring a discernible charge to his work. But he’s also a very nostalgia-driven fellow. Much of his work, either in plot, dialogue, or style, hearkens back to the sort of cheap pulp movies that Tarantino clearly loves so much. I’m on record for not liking nostalgia, but I do admire well-done work regardless.
As it is, Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood, looks back at an era in Hollywood long past.
Honestly, this may be the most sentimental movie Tarantino has made in years. It may also be the most Tarantino-like movie I’ve seen in a long time. Pop culture references and B-side oldies abound as well as one scene cameos to a lot of actors who’ve worked with Tarantino before. The story, such as it is, is about two men in 1969. One is somewhat washed up TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio). The other is Rick’s stunt double/all around handyman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
Rick, hater of all things hippie, is starting to realize his career isn’t going anywhere. The best he may be able to hope for are endless guest appearances as one-off bad guys and maybe some leading rolls in Italian cinema. It’s starting to hit him hard.
Cliff, on the other hand, hasn’t had regular stunt work in ages. He doubles for Rick sometimes, but mostly he runs errands for Rick and acts as a right hand man. For all that Rick complains about how down and out he is, he’s got nothing on Cliff. And Cliff, for his part, doesn’t really seem to complain much. He takes everything in stride.
And beyond these two, we see Rick has a new next door neighbor in the form of young actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), her husband, and various hangers on.
As it is, there isn’t much here in the way of a plot. Robbie’s Tate seems more symbol of a New Hollywood that has no time for Rick or Cliff. She’s mostly a sweet and innocent young woman enjoying life. Given what happened to the real Tate, it’s obvious why Tarantino would want to mostly just make her a sympathetic figure. But as for Rick and Cliff, we get some different paths for the two men. Rick largely goes through the motions of working where and when he can. Cliff, meanwhile, has his own run-ins, some of which could possibly pass for the sorts of fictional adventures Rick is portraying on various TV shows. This is a hang-out movie. Tarantino created some characters that we would hopefully want to just hang out with.
And though Tarantino has a reputation for violence in his movies, there’s very little of it in Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood. Oh, to be sure, there is one really violent and over-the-top scene in the movie, but the rest of it is, for the most part, just two guys going about their everyday business. We see what looks like staged fights, few of which seem to involve people being hurt too badly. All the really rough stuff comes in the third act, though Tarantino is leading the audience that way as is his habit. In the meantime, we just hang out with two men. One doesn’t want to grow up. The other doesn’t want to take much responsibility. And if you’re on Tarantino’s general wavelength, this one is a lot of fun. 8.5 out of 10 well-trained dogs.