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  • Articles by Sonali

    Film review: Once Upon A Time in Hollywood

    Quentin Tarantino’s latest offering Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is a mixed bag of a film, with contradictory motivations. The film is his most self-indulgent to date, taking its title and some of its inspiration from the Sergio Leone classics ‘Once Upon A Time in the West’ and Once Upon A Time in America’ as well as highlighting his other obsessions: Hollywood and L.A. The film has been criticised for being too long at 165 minutes. Tarantino even rewrites an important piece of Hollywood history. At times it is also nostalgic, reflective and restrained but he reverts back to his usual full-on gore and violence in his version of a ‘fairy-tale’ ending.

    The film is set in Hollywood in 1969. The fictional strand to the story focuses on Rick Dalton (Leonardo de Caprio), star of Bounty Law, a one-time hit TV Western series and his stunt double, gopher and buddy Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton is trying to find a new film role in Hollywood, struggling to stay relevant in a changing climate. He lives in LA’s Benedict Canyon next door to actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and film director Roman Polanski − the fact-based side of the story. Tarantino has been criticised for being exploitative by alluding to the Manson Family crime that targeted Sharon Tate.

    It starts off well. We see Dalton meeting his agent Marvin Shwarz (Al Pacino), promoting his work with a clip from his 35mm WW2 movie, The Fourteen Fists of McCluskey. The film lags badly in the middle though when Dalton is rehearsing scenes from his upcoming Western Lancer, made worse by his anxious mood. Dalton moves to Rome for part of the film to play the lead in Spaghetti Westerns (Tarantino is a fan of the genre) directed by Sergio Corbucci.

    The atmosphere is lifted considerably by Cliff Booth’s easy going rapport with both his pet Pit Bull terrier Brandy, and with Dalton. Booth is nonchalant  but unpredictable, with a scandalous past. He is in an awkward, jarring scene when he challenges Bruce Lee to a fight and wins.

    Booth finds himself at Spahn Ranch in San Fernando Valley, California, after offering a hitchhiker a lift home. A sense of dread develops. The property was once a film set known as Spahn Movie ranch. It is now occupied by hippies from the Manson family lead by Charles Manson. They represent a counterculture to the glamour of Hollywood epitomized by Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski.

    In truth, Sharon Tate does not have much dialogue in the film although Robbie’s Tate does make her mark, adding a sense of lightness and optimism. She features in a key vignette scene when she visits a screening of her new film (she was a rising star) the Wrecking Crew at a cinema in Hollywood Boulevard, to see how the audience reacts to it. Apparently Tarantino frequently went to the cinema in Hollywood Boulevard himself as a child.

    Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is also Tarantino’s homage to L.A. The film offers sweeping views of the city. Again there are a few intriguing scenes without much dialogue, a device which makes them seem wistful and resonate more. In one we see Booth driving through Hollywood Boulevard on a carefree, sunny afternoon and at night-time lit up by multi-coloured neon signs and billboards. There is also an extended horse riding sequence featuring Tex from the Manson family. Apparently members of the Manson family would take visitors on horseback tours through the landscape surrounding Spahn Farm. There is slow build up to the terrible crime involving Tate at 10050 Cielo Drive

    Tarantino has paid great attention to detail in terms of recreating the era by means of era –appropriate music, cars, billboards and even the exterior of house at Cielo drive is a faithful rendition of the original building.  On the other hand the characters don’t seem too cramped by their costumes, casting a fresh perspective on the past. At the end he reimagines the story of the Manson Family Crime, exacting a gratuitously violent, gory revenge on the real perpetrators (Tex, Sadie and Katie).

    Once Upon A Time in Hollywood is an often charming film with its focus on its characters, some fine cinematography, its sense of place and easy, rambling pace. But this is counteracted by the problematic scene with Bruce Lee and the Tarantino-esque blood soaked, splatter-fest ending. The film has flaws which stand out in the current political climate. But it also has some exceptional sequences i.e. the Spahn Ranch scene, strong performances and a grand -scale cinematic quality.

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