Quentin Tarantino, born and raised in Los Angeles, knows Hollywood – both the place and the industry – intimately. This, his ninth film, is set in 1969; it’s a love letter not only to the city’s freeways, architecture, restaurants and seemingly perpetual sunshine – but to the movie industry and those who toil in it.
Its two main characters offer the chance of fine, detailed performances to two major Hollywood names. Leonardo di Caprio is Rick Dalton, a nearly successful TV and film actor whose star has somewhat fallen. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is Rick’s close friend, long-time stunt double and now his assistant – a seemingly easy-going guy with violence in his past.
Rick’s career has bought him an impressive house high in the Hollywood Hills – though not as high nor as luxurious as their neighbours, film director Roman Polanski and his wife, the stunning young actress Sharon Tate (played radiantly by Margot Robbie.)
She, of course, was brutally murdered (along with four friends) at her home by disciples of the infamous Charles Manson. One’s knowledge of that grim fact inevitably makes Once Upon A Time… increasingly uneasy viewing beneath its veneer of sunshine, good jokes and an upbeat soundtrack of period pop music.
That said, it’s funny, smart and hugely enjoyable; Tarantino gives full rein to his visual flair and indulges his doe-eyed adoration of this period in movie history.
It would be a disservice to the film even to hint at its ending. So no spoiler here – except to note that its title’s first four words suggest an optimistic fable rather than harsh reality.
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