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The latest and ninth movie from Quentin Tarantino, the aptly titled Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, is pure brilliance. The period setting and cinematography is astounding, as is the smattering of humor within the narrative. This is a movie which does not take the characters it portrays too seriously. It shows the tongue-in-cheek reality of those on a pedestal and presents that in some of the most memorable scenes you will witness this year.
In fact, the only niggle is Margot Robbie as the ill-fated Sharon Tate. She is simply not on-screen enough. Yes, the time she is given in the movie is great. You will, however, feel her full potential is not executed as it should be. That point aside, the rest of the movie is insanely good, infectious and addictive to watch.
The remainder of the cast excel with an effervescent integrity. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as Rick Dalton, a washed-up actor sinking into depression and alcoholism – a character portrayed with more humanity than any of the performances The Revenant star has given before. Dalton lives off guest appearances, and the career he once had. Bolstered with promise by agent Marvin Schwartz (Al Pacino), he is still waiting for that big break which by his publicist’s account is only “a pool party away”.
There through it all is Dalton’s stunt double/chauffeur/odd job man Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt confidently and slickly. The Fight Club star effortlessly gels the movie together, some feat given it’s just shy of three hours.
The cameos, however, are the real meat-on-the-bones enjoyment here, weaponising viewers’ nostalgia for all it’s worth. Apart from the introduction of Pacino, the sizzling Mike Moh (Empire) as late martial arts star Bruce Lee is perhaps the best. Yet, Damian Lewis (Homeland) as Steve McQueen is also so believable it causes goosebumps. Heavyweight Bruce Dern appears as George Spahn (a role originally to be played by Burt Reynolds), the 80-year-old landowner who rented his property out to the Manson Family. Meanwhile, Tarantino regular Kurt Russell returns as a stunt coordinator.
Originally touted as a movie surrounding the Manson Murders, Once Upon a Time… may surprise viewers. The movie is set around that time, but only a few minutes is given to Charles Manson (Damon Herriman, also playing the same character in the upcoming Mindhunter Season 2). Instead, the focus is primarily on the Manson Family, presenting them as a bunch of hapless hippies who are the center of the humor. Tarantino takes away the fear they radiated and replaces it with a comedic indulgence. With the twist at the end this is nailed and is one which you will not see coming.
Once Upon a Time… is Tarantino’s masterpiece. In some ways, it’s like Jackie Brown, a sort of hang-out movie with little violence but an intelligent, memorable story. As 2019 sees large scale CGI outings becoming the talk of the movie world, this is the breath of fresh air we need.