If you were to take a patchwork of images and sounds from the late 1960’s and sew them into a movie quilt you would be close to achieving what Quentin Tarantino delivers with “Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood.”
An entire era is reduced to an easily digestible time capsule that cross-pollinates certain facts while staying true to the spirit of the times. The macro concerns the Manson Family living at the Spawn Movie Ranch while the micro revolves around struggling actor Rick Dalton and his best friend, and stunt double, Cliff Booth.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dalton, Brad Pitt plays Booth and Margo Robbie plays Sharon Tate, Dalton’s next-door neighbor. There’s not a false note to any of their performances.
The movie comes jam packed with hidden messages that cast light on the influences that shaped this movie. A three-sheet movie poster of “The Golden Stallion” hangs large on the wall of one of the characters. This was a 1949 film where Roy Rogers took a murder rap for his horse Trigger and a personal fave of Tarantino’s that also turns up in “Kill Bill”. We get references to real people through movie trailers, television commercials and record albums; performers like Ann-Margaret and Paul Revere and the Raiders. Then there are established actors like Brenda Vacarro and Luke Perry playing parts so briefly ingrained in the narrative that if you blink you miss them.
When Steve McQueen turns up at a Playboy Mansion party he waves with two fingers, which is the same way he waves in “Le Mans” to indicate that he came in second place. On the private road that leads to both the Polanski/Tate house and the house where Dalton lives are parked several cars along the curbside including a Volvo P1800. Classic LA restaurants like Musso & Frank Grill and El Coyote Mexican Café loom large.
“Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood” is awash with period details, so much so that you might overlook the fact that “Where the Action Is” was broadcast on weekday afternoons while “The F.B.I.” aired on Sunday nights. But Tarantino has always preferred to rewrite history just like he did in “Inglourious Basterds,” when he killed Hitler in a Paris movie theater.
The heat of the film deals with how Dalton tries to revive his failing acting career while also being a functioning alcoholic. Booth has his own demons. One of the best scenes gyrates around Dalton getting schooled by an eight-year old actor that he shares a scene with on the television series “Lancer.”
Suffice it to say that Tarantino observes the classic theatrical dictum that states when you introduce a can of dog food in the first act, that same can of dog food will play a part in the third act. Said dog food is labeled “good food for bad dogs” and evidently comes in rat and raccoon flavors.
Tarantino lives and breathes in his own movie cosmology that includes an Italian director that shares a name with a character from “Basterds” as well as the ubiquitous cigarette brand Red Apple.
Tarantino occupies that rare space reserved for only the greatest directors like Hitchcock and Kubrick. Watching “Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood” isn’t just watching a film – it being enveloped in a methodical mood of cinematic marvel. And at this time in history any time you can view a film that’s not concerned with multiple angles of subterfuge and unoriginality it’s a given you’re in for a great time.