- Film & TV
- 20 Aug 19
DiCaprio and Pitt put in fun performances in Tarantino's predictable love letter to all-American men.
As its title suggests, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a fairytale about a bygone era, and Tarantino is certain he knows who are the heroes and who are the villains - and as usual, he doesn’t care if you disagree.
The enjoyably ambling though overlong vignette-style narrative sees Leonardo DiCaprio at his hilarious, mercurial best as Rick Dalton; a once-celebrated TV Western actor ageing out of the industry thanks to his insecurity, alcoholism and disdain for any form of culture that isn’t fuelled by all-American machismo. Pitt plays his stunt double, Cliff Booth, now blacklisted due to rumours of a disturbing past with women. They’re both charismatic, talented, entitled to success - but they are being hampered by people whining about the moral and artistic codes of a changing culture. Sound familiar?
A generous reading of the film could see Tarantino grappling with his own career; examining not just his own persona but what his beloved spaghetti Western signified and celebrated in terms of misogyny, race and nationalism. But OUATIH also exemplifies everything it critiques. One of the only characters of colour who gets to speak, Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh), becomes an absurd, swaggering, ultimately pathetic . Women are either silent, angelic ciphers (Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate) or sinister seductive hippie-sirens, trying to lure decent men and society to their demise (Margaret Qualley’s Manson girl.) Both are shoeless, because of course.
Tarantino’s self-indulgent and ultimately conservative view of the world, which vehemently believes that the late 60s heralded America’s loss of innocence – an absurdly myopic and MAGA-ish notion - is evoked with fun gusto. Muscle cars pass by billboards and drive-ins before swinging onto studio backlots. Jingles from radio and TV ads blare constantly, inbetween classic songs of the era like ‘Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man.’ Stars like Steve McQueen party at the Playboy Mansion, while young Manson disciples hang out at the sun-drenched Spahn Ranch. And there is of course a bloodbath the final act to satiate the violence-and-vendetta crowd.
In short, it’s Tarantino. Brilliantly acted, indulgent, predictable, and somehow still utterly convinced that being anti-progress and anti-counter-cultures makes you a rebel, not the status quo.