Quentin Tarantino’s ninth and apparently penultimate film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood opens in Irish cinemas this week. With a standing ovation in Cannes, an 85% “certified fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the film’s reception is a massive upgrade from his last film, the Civil War Western, The Hateful Eight. As a proud “Tarantinofile” I can safely say that a lot of his fans will be pleasantly surprised by this film. It is nothing like what he has done before and probably nothing like he will ever do again. It has got a lot more heart and sensitivity than his other films whilst still retaining the shock factor ending, vibrant characters and dialogue so sharp and quotable, it hails Tarantino as a modern Shakespeare.
The film opens with the story of Rick Dalton, an ageing actor and star of successful Western TV series Bounty Law. Dalton is a vulnerable, self-conscious and sensitive man, terrified of the looming end to his Hollywood career. Next to him is the cool, placid and unpredictable Cliff Booth, Rick’s stuntman, gopher and best friend who instead of a Beverly Hills mansion, lives in a trailer and a Pitbull and eats Mac and Cheese made from powder. The juxtaposition of these two men and how they react to their dubious career prospects and the bond that forms between them despite their differences is one of the many pieces that form the soul of this film. When Rick starts to lose it, Cliff gets him in check and despite their friendship being based on convenience for Rick, there is a palpable connection there.
Rick is told by casting agent (Al Pacino) that his career in Hollywood is fading and that he should move to spaghetti westerns in Italy. As he makes the odd guest appearance as the villain in other shows, we slowly see the fade of his stardom and the difficult admission of one’s losses. Totally juxtaposing Rick’s fate are his neighbours, hot off his hit horror picture Rosemary’s Baby, Roman Polanski (pre-problematic era) and his beautiful actress wife Sharon Tate. Now, this is when things get interesting.
The thing that everyone wants to see, is Margot Robbie. Of course, there is so much more to Robbie than her looks. She’s an extremely skilled actress, raging in roles from Tonya Harding to Queen Elizabeth I and is also a co-founder of theproduction company Lucky Chap. Yet, her charming smile, swift and smooth body movement as if she’s something out of a dream is so hypnotic, you snap out of it every time the scene changes. She dawns the go-go boots and luscious locks of Sharon Tate, the young promising 1960s star who was murdered by members of the Manson family. Many have complained that despite her impressive resume, she does not have many lines in the film. Having seen the film, her minimal presence throughout is extremely prudent in Tarantino’s representation of Sharon Tate. Tate was seen as one of Hollywood’s most promising and shining stars, ready to take the cinema industry by storm. Her murder was seen as a murder of innocence and potential, leaving Hollywood yearning for more of her. Tarantino nails this desire for more with his limited use of Robbie. When she’s shown, she’s enchanting, charming and enthralling and when she’s off the screen, and you don’t know when you’ll see her again, you feel that same want that so many people did in 1969 when she was killed. Only a few actresses that skilled could take such a limited role but carry it out with the unforgettable presence that Robbie did.
As the stories unfold and we inch closer to that fateful night, we briefly meet Charles Manson, we see the hippie culture through disapproval and curiosity, and we get to live in the shiny, cool, hot Los Angeles of the 1960s. Despite the presumably, horrific ending, the film is Tarantino’s most upbeat. Allowing him to really utilise the soundtrack to the maximum, to indulge all of his 60s nostalgia without ever once over-indulging. It is a total teleportation to a time when acid-dipped cigarettes were sold on sides of streets, when the biggest stars in Hollywood danced at the Playboy Mansion. To see an industry that has become so aware of its faults and misdemeanours in today’s world, so carefree, is a refreshing viewing experience. This is mostly showcased in the scene that a lot od people are talking about, when Sharon Tate goes into a cinema to watch herself in The Wrecking Crew a Dean Martin picture she co-starred in . Robbie presents Tate here as a person in total adoration of the cinematic artform, getting joy from other people’s enjoyment of the film and somewhat showing a mirror to the real audience and basking in the dual pleasure of film and creating a familiar bond between the audience and the young starlet. The headlines of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey seem like a distant memory and we get to take delight in the cinematic viewing experience.
The final half an hour is the shock of a lifetime. I will remain limited in what I say here because this ending is best seen without any prior knowledge. It is a last-minute utter downfall of events in classic Tarantino style. Lots of one-liners right before massive executions of violence. It is more digestible than a lot of his former fits of violence, but I would still recommend to the weak-hearted people to keep one eye closed. Like gore or not, this ending is one of the most entertaining in modern film.
Love or hate Tarantino, this film never has a dull moment. It has more warmth than any of his other films, leaving you uplifted and somewhat euphoric, with an ending that only Tarantino would think of and be brave enough to execute. The three main characters jump right out of the screen and summon up a sense of familiarity between themselves and the audience almost immediately.
Without doubt, the best film I have seen this year, and another masterpiece added to Tarantino’s list.