Sunday, July 28, 2019
Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood
Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is the story of an aging TV actor and his stunt double trying to make a name for themselves in Hollywood during the final years of Hollywood’s golden age before the emergence of New Hollywood. The film is a fictional look into the world of 1960s American cinema at a time when it was transitioning from big-budget spectacles in favor of more personal filmmaking as well as a look at what some saw as the end of a period of innocence following the murders committed the Charles Manson family. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Dakota Fanning, Austin Butler, Bruce Dern, and Al Pacino. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a rapturous and evocative film from Quentin Tarantino.
It’s 1969 as the film follows the parallel journeys of an aging TV actor known for TV westerns and his next door neighbor in rising film star Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). It play into two actors who live next door yet haven’t met each other due to the trajectories of their careers yet the TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is coping with a career that is fading as he’s bringing along his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) who has now become Dalton’s driver/assistant due to his own reputation that prevented him from doing stunt work. Quentin Tarantino’s screenplay doesn’t just the explore of these paralleling career trajectories but also this emergence of something much darker that is happening in the background as it relates to the Charles Manson family as some say marked the end of a period of innocence for the 1960s and Hollywood before the emergence of the much-more personal filmmaking world of New Hollywood.
Tarantino’s script has a unique structure where its first two acts takes place during a weekend in Hollywood as the first act relates to Dalton’s career woes and the lack of options he has in his career as he’s also succumb to alcoholism with Booth helping him out anyway he can. The script would also show flashbacks into how Booth received notoriety not just for what he did in his personal life but also how he would lose his job due to a friendly tussle with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). The first act also has Dalton meet with producer/agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino) who knows that Dalton still has some juice left but is also aware of the limited options he has as he would offer him work in Italy for some Spaghetti Westerns which Dalton is unsure about as he’s doing work on TV guest appearances for money.
The second act is about Dalton doing a TV show as he struggles to remember his lines while Booth does some repairs at Dalton’s home where he would later encounter a young hippie in Pussycat (Margaret Qualley) who had been flirting with him from afar as he gives her a ride home only to realize where she lives as it’s also the home of a man whom Booth and Dalton worked at a TV show the latter starred in George Spahn (Bruce Dern). The first and second act also showcase the life that Tate was having as she is someone on the rise and married to filmmaker Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) as she would go to parties with Polanski and her longtime friend Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch) and on the next day would watch herself in one of her films in The Wrecking Crew with an audience as they praise her while she would earlier receive a copy of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles. The film’s third act takes place six months after the events of the first two act on August of 1969 where Tate, Sebring, and others would be killed by the Manson family. Yet, it’s more about the direction that Dalton has taken with his career as well as this end of an era for himself and Booth with this sense of change in Hollywood.
Tarantino’s direction definitely bears a lot of visual styles that play into this world of 1969 Los Angeles/Hollywood where it is shot on location in the city as it also serves as a character of the film itself. While there are some wide shots of the city including in some locations and this atmosphere of what it was like back in 1969 in this transition from the 1960s to the 1970s. Tarantino also maintains an intimacy but also this romanticism of a craftsmanship of what it was like working in Hollywood on studio lots and sound stages during those times. Notably in TV westerns that Dalton starred in as he would work on a western while reveal what goes on behind the scenes as it does showcase the struggles of an actor and what some will do to pass the time such as Booth’s tussle with Bruce Lee. Tarantino’s usage of high crane shots to get a look into the locations including the city itself as well as tracking shots for parts of the film showcase a filmmaker definitely taking everything he’s done and refining it to showcase a world that was rich and exciting.
Tarantino’s usage of close-ups and medium shots are important as it play into conversations between characters including one key moment where Dalton is on set shooting for a TV pilot where he converses with a young actress named Trudi Fraser (Julia Butters) who takes her work seriously yet understands what it means to be an actor even though she’s only 8 years old. It’s a small little scene in the film that does play into Dalton’s own insecurities and the realization that he’s on his way out but this young girl would give him a sense of hope into who he is and why he still matters despite the changing times. The film does feature some off-screen narration by a stunt coordinator in Randy (Kurt Russell) who only appears in one sequence of the film but his narration does play into the narrative as it relate to the different paths that Dalton and Tate would embark on. Even in the film’s third act as it relates to the infamous night of the Tate-LaBianca murders on August as there is this sense of something that is coming to an end. Yet, Tarantino builds up the drama and suspense slowly to play into the climax but with an added sense of mania and terror in the most unexpected way. Overall, Tarantino crafts a riveting and exhilarating film about a fading TV actor and his stunt double trying to survive the final days of Hollywood’s Golden Age just as a young starlet is on the rise against the backdrop of the Charles Manson family.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson does incredible work with the film’s cinematography from the way the interiors of a western set is lit in the daytime as well as the usage of low-key lights for some of the interior/exterior scenes at night as it’s a highlight of the film. Editor Fred Raskin does amazing work with the editing with its stylish usage of jump-cuts, freeze-frames, and other stylish cuts to play into some of the film’s humor and drama as well as these abrupt cuts for some of the flashback sequences. Production designer Barbara Ling, with set decorator Nancy Haigh and supervising art director Richard L. Johnson, does brilliant work with the film’s set design including the home that Dalton lives in as well as the trailer that Booth lives in with his pitbull Brandy and some of the sets that Dalton works at as an actor.
Costume designer Arianne Phillips does excellent work with the costumes from the stylish clothes that Tate wore including the go-go boots and some of the clothes of the men including the leather jacket that Dalton wears. Prosthetic makeup artist Stephen Bettles does fantastic work with the makeup in the look that Dalton would sport for the TV appearance he would be in as well as the look he would have later on in its third act. Special effects supervisor Jeremy Hays and visual effects designer John Dykstra do terrific work with the special effects with Hays providing some effects in some of the weapons Dalton uses on set including a flamethrower for a World War II film he made while Dykstra creates some visual effects that include a shot of Dalton doing a scene in The Great Escape as well as the look of TV shows during that time.
Sound editor Wylie Stateman does superb work with the sound in creating an atmosphere into some of the settings including the party at the Playboy Mansion as well as in some of the locations including the sparse texture of Booth’s encounter with the hippies at an old ranch. Music supervisor Mary Ramos does wonderful work with the film’s music soundtrack as it features an array of music ranging from a score piece by Maurice Jarre to the music of the times from the likes of Deep Purple, Neil Diamond, Paul Revere and the Raiders, Jose Feliciano, Vanilla Fudge, Los Bravos, Dee Clark, Chad & Jeremy, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Seger, the Box Tops, Mitch Ryder, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and the Buchanan Brothers.
The casting by Victoria Thomas is great as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Dreama Walker as Connie Stevens, Rebecca Rittenhouse as Michelle Phillips, Rachel Redleaf as Cass Elliot, Damon Herriman as Charles Manson, Rumer Willis as Tate’s friend Joanna Pettet, Samantha Robinson and Costa Ronin in their respective roles as Tate’s friends Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski, Rafal Zawierucha as Tate’s husband in filmmaker Roman Polanski, Ramon Franco as a movie theater manager, Clu Gulager as a book store owner, Nicholas Hammond as American actor/director Sam Wanamaker, Kate Berlant as a movie ticket booth attendant, and Spencer Garrett as TV personality Allen Kincaid. In the roles as hippies and members of the Manson family include Sydney Sweeney as Snake, Harley Quinn Smith as Froggie, Kansas Bowling as Sandra Good, Danielle Harris, James Landry Herbert as Steve Grogan, Victoria Pedretti as Leslie Van Houten, Lena Dunham as Catherine Share, and as the trio of women who would take part in the murders in Madisen Beaty as Patricia Krenwinkel, Mikey Madisen as Susan “Sadie” Atkins, and Maya Hawke as a reluctant Linda Kasabian.
Other film appearances and cameos include Michael Madsen as a sheriff on Dalton’s hit TV show Bounty Law, Martin Kove and James Remar as villains in Bounty Law, Marco Rodriguez as a bartender in the show Dalton is appearing as a guest in Lancer, Scoot McNairy as a gunslinger in Lancer, Clifton Collins Jr. as a cowboy in Lancer, Rebecca Gayheart as Booth’s wife in a flashback scene, Lorenza Izzo as an Italian actress Dalton meets in the third act, Zoe Bell as Randy’s stunt coordinator wife Janet, Mike Moh as the kung fu legend Bruce Lee, and Luke Perry in a terrific appearance in one of his final performances as the famed Canadian actor Wayne Maunder who also makes an appearance on the show Lancer. Bruce Dern is superb in his brief role as ranch owner George Spahn whom Booth knew a long time ago and wanted to say hi with Dern playing someone unaware of whom he’s renting his land to while Dakota Fanning is fantastic as Manson family follower Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme who sort of runs the land for Manson.
Austin Butler is terrific in his role as Manson family follower Charles “Tex” Watson who is considered Manson’s enforcer as he leads the killings on that dark August night. Julia Butters is excellent as Trudi Fraser as a child actress that Dalton meets on the set of Lancer as she is a young method actor who is committed to her craft while giving Dalton some confidence. Emile Hirsch is brilliant as Jay Sebring as Tate’s former fiancée who has become a revered hairstylist as well as a close friend of Tate and Polanski as someone who is enjoying the ride of Tate’s rising fame while Margaret Qualley is amazing as Pussycat as a young hippie who flirts and befriends Dalton while would introduce him to the people from the Manson family. Timothy Olyphant is marvelous in his small role as TV star James Stacy who is the lead in the show Lancer as he wants to help Dalton by giving him a guest spot on the show as a way to pay him back. Kurt Russell is great as the stunt coordinator/off-screen narrator Randy as a guy who is aware of Booth’s reputation but is also someone that isn’t afraid to call out on other people’s bullshit. Al Pacino is remarkable as Marvin Schwarz as an agent/producer who wants to help Dalton out but also remind him of the small prospects he has left as he knows what might help and save his career for a while even if Dalton wouldn’t like it.
Margot Robbie is incredible as Sharon Tate as this actress on the rise who is a woman of innocence as she is enjoying her life and growing fame but is also someone that is also kind and gracious to others where Robbie just exudes all of those qualities that Tate was known for. Finally, there’s the duo of Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt in phenomenal performances in their respective roles as Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. Pitt’s performance as Booth is full of charisma but also someone who definitely is more of a real cowboy than the characters that Dalton play as he is also someone who doesn’t live lavishly but is more grounded as well as be supportive for Dalton anyway he can while carrying his pitbull Brandy who gets to steal parts of the film herself. DiCaprio’s performance as Dalton is someone filled with charm and good looks, that was typical of actors from the late 50s/early 60s, yet is dealing with alcoholism and a fading career as he struggles to figure out what to do next as it’s truly one of DiCaprio’s great performances while his scenes with Pitt are just magical to watch.
Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a magnificent film from Quentin Tarantino. Featuring a great ensemble cast, gorgeous visuals, a compelling and insightful script, throwbacks to the late 1960s, exploration of Hollywood innocence and its Golden Age, and a rocking music soundtrack. The film is definitely an entertaining as well as a beautiful portrait of a moment in time when Hollywood was more than just a city for the stars but a place where dreams can come true. In the end, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is an outstanding film from Quentin Tarantino.
Quentin Tarantino Films: Reservoir Dogs - Pulp Fiction - Four Rooms-The Man from Hollywood - Jackie Brown - Kill Bill - Grindhouse-Death Proof - Inglourious Basterds - Django Unchained - The Hateful Eight
Related: The Auteurs #17: Quentin Tarantino - Growing Up with Quentin Tarantino
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