Though Once Upon a Time In Hollywood was released in August in many other countries, this latest film by Quentin Tarantino just came out in Korea.
The film tells the story of a Hollywood actor trying to find his place in the sun. Rick Dalton, who is brilliantly played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an old guard actor desperately attempting to revive his career. Accompanied by his personal stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Dalton hops from one set to another, hoping to land a somewhat decent acting role.
Dalton’s quest to find an acting job takes place in late 1960’s Hollywood, so ignoring the notorious Charles Manson’s Tate Murders is obviously impossible. In fact, understanding the context of the film is crucial, and without prior knowledge, it is possible to misunderstand the entire film. In brief, on August 8, 1969, members of the cult called “Family”, led by Charles Manson, invaded the home of famous director Roman Polanski and brutally murdered his wife Sharon Tate, along with four of her friends. Tate, who was eight months pregnant, begged for mercy, but the intruders made no exception.
Chekhov’s gun principle reminds us that “a gun that appears on the stage will eventually go off.” At the beginning of the film, nothing points directly to the Tate murders that shook Hollywood. But once we see Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate appearing on screen, we know that Chekhov’s gun is going to fire. As the finale approaches, Tarantino follows that principle: the inevitable event is bound to happen, but in a very unexpected way. After all, Tarantino is especially known for twisting the rules in his favor.
There is an obvious difference between the first two-thirds of the movie and the last hour. The first part can be seen as a tribute to good old Hollywood. Tarantino has done a meticulous job of delivering the spirit of Hollywood’s Golden Era. We see neon-glowing signs, retro-style cinema boards announcing fresh releases, cabriolet cars roaming around California, and of course, hippies and the emerging counter-culture movement. The film has a lot of scenes that deliver nothing but pure visual satisfaction, exploring this glittering city.
But around the two-hour mark, Tarantino builds up to the climax of the film. We see hippies armed with knives in a car approaching Sharon Tate’s house, and we realize that something terrible is about to take place. Before the film was released, many questioned how the director would approach probably the most nightmarish story of Hollywood. Unsurprisingly, nothing defames Tate’s memory, but when it comes to her murderers, Tarantino portrayed them with the same condemnation as the Nazis in Inglourious Basterds. The third act of the film revealed the classic Tarantino style that we have come to love.
Both DiCaprio and Pitt played their roles perfectly. Their characters — with their naïve and conservative views amidst a rapidly changing world — embodied the “Good Ol’ America”. Rick Dalton, a hysterical and egocentric actor who can’t accept his fading fame, is perhaps DiCaprio’s most hilarious role to date. Brad Pitt’s character is the total opposite — loyal and humble, an illustrative example of what a true friend should be. Despite the differences in temperament, both manage to support each other and stay together no matter what they go through. Each of them brings something special to the movie, and their tandem in the film looks flawless.
All these things make Once Upon a Time In Hollywood perhaps the most and the least “Tarantino-esque” film ever made. To understand why this is the case, we have to go deep into the previous films made by one of the most unique film directors.
A typical Tarantino film has several elements: fascinating long dialogues that rarely contribute to the plot development, scenes that appear on screen in a non-chronological development, and of course, extreme violence. Once Upon a Time In Hollywood mostly has a linear plot development, except for dozens of flashbacks appearing throughout the film. There are no huge plot twists and not much violence; there’s not even a single head being chopped off.
Yet we can still see that this is a true Tarantino film: long and captivating conversations, attention to the smallest details, and of course, the ever-present foot fetish scenes. All in all, Quentin Tarantino proved that he is as good as he has always been, and he did that by brilliantly telling us the story that could have happened once upon a time in Hollywood.