10 years ago, I went to see the early screening of Inglourious Basterds with Rob McIlrath. For those reading me for the first time, Rob was my best friend and Dollar Baby co-producer.
Rob passed away last year, so heading out to see Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood this year was a tough one based on memories from the past.
When the movie ended almost three hours later, it reminded me of Inglourious Basterds. Quentin Tarantino took a lot of time to film monologues between some of the best actors working today. He ended it with an explosive climax that had most people in the theater taking turns gasping, laughing and cheering.
To put it simply, Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood was a prototypical Quentin Tarantino movie.
I miss having someone like Rob that I can leave the theater with and talk about what we just saw. This movie is perfect for film lovers to debate the positives and negatives of.
What I saw was a movie about old Hollywood in 1969, the same year the Charles Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate and her houseguests.
The Manson Family was part of the story, and Tarantino used knowledge of what they did to build tension in at least two parts of the movie. However, the film was not about them at all.
Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is about television star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
By the time the movie starts, Rick is not a has-been but is no longer the star he once was. He now works as a featured guest star in other people’s shows. This also means Cliff doesn’t work as much; instead, he works as Rick’s driver and Man Friday.
The film is a bromance about two guys who are more than friends but less than a husband and wife. It is about their lives together when their careers are starting to wind down, their reason for spending time together mostly being drinking buddies and soundboards for each other.
When it comes to Rick, he has a meeting early in the film with a producer named Marvin Schwarzs.
Schwarzs tells him his guest appearances makes him less of a star in people’s eyes. He suggests Rick go to Rome and star in Italian spaghetti westerns. This makes Rick believe he is a has-been and his career is almost over.
Meanwhile, Cliff only works with Rick because people believe he killed his wife and got away with it. If Rick doesn’t get jobs, and can’t pay Cliff to work for him, putting his future in doubt as well.
The difference is that this is an existential dilemma for Rick while Cliff just rolls with the punches.
Most of the movie shows Rick hard at work, trying to prove that he is still a marketable star. As for Cliff, this is where the Manson Family comes in.
Cliff meets one of the Manson Family members in Pussycat (Margaret Qualley), learning they live at the old Spahn Ranch. This is where he used to shoot Rick’s show. He goes there to find out if Spahn (Bruce Dern) is ok. This is the first time we see how dangerous the Manson Family can be, with a twist.
One thing people need to understand is that the movie is full of detours and diversions. Flashback scenes happen that do nothing but add color to the story and flesh out some characters a bit.
Then, in the end, fans of the climax of Inglourious Basterds get a treat. Some critics blasted the ending as “disrespectful” of Sharon Tate and the victims of the Manson Family. However, the end is quite crowd-pleasing for anyone who doesn’t mind a little revisionist history — just like Inglourious Basterds.
There are also great scenes showing Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) loving her stardom with an infectious smile. People who know her fate fell in love with her with a sense of dread heading into the final climax.
There are also a ton of great cameos in the movie — a whos-who of Tarantino collaborators as well as some new faces. Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Harley Quinn Smith, Kurt Russell, Like Perry, Emile Hirsch, Damian Lewis, Michael Madsen, Rumer Willis, Scoot McNairy, Clifton Collins Jr., Rebecca Gayheart, Lena Dunham, Clu Galager, and many more pop up here and there in this movie.
At the end of the day, Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood is another Quentin Tarantino fable showing how talented this man is with his camera, dialogue, and plotting. Sadly, also on display in this almost three-hour movie is the importance that Sally JoAnne Menke had on his movies. His long-time editor died in 2010 — Inglourious Basterds being her final film for him.
Tarantino likely wanted the film to be a meandering look at Hollywood through the eyes of Rick and Cliff. However, it could have used tightening up at spots to make it move a bit more steadily to the end.
On a final note, the end of Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is worth the price of admission. This is far from Tarantino’s best film but is a love letter to classical Hollywood with amazing performances (Brad Pitt is a national treasure) and an ending worthy of Quentin’s legacy.