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Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019): Whose Story Is It?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Quentin Tarantino is known for many things: foot fetishes, a love of spaghetti westerns, martial arts films, alternative histories, lengthy monologues, and copious amounts of over-the-top violence and bloodshed. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (or OUATIH, as everyone seems to be calling it) keeps many of these elements, but the violence and bloodshed are almost nonexistent. When it does enter the picture, it's that much more shocking because of its noticeable absence throughout most of the film.

Rick Dalton, a fictional character, (Leonardo DiCaprio) feels certain his career won't last much longer. His reputation has sunk due to the fact that he always plays the villains who get beat up. It doesn't help that he's also an alcoholic. He thinks his career has sunk to a new low when he is offered a chance to make Italian Westerns. His stunt double and best friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), drives him around and does odd jobs around the house since unfortunate circumstances have blocked him from working much lately. We follow these two men around as they work at the studio, watch shows at home, and drive around town.

The real-life Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), along with her husband, Roman Polanski, live next door to Dalton, although the neighbors have never met. We see Tate partying in Hollywood, going to the movies to see herself, dancing around to records, and snoring in bed.

There are a million fun moments that will please any film buff, but the other characters we get to know to an extent are the Manson "family" -- that is, the many young men and women that became entangled with Charles Manson in the 1960s. While we first encounter this group after a wacky series of interactions Booth has with them on one of his times wandering about town, the most intriguing scenes happen at the end, when a few of the Manson family show up to "do the devil's work" at the Tate residence.

The final half hour of so brings all of our characters together, creating an alternative version of the grisly Tate murders that happened in 1969.

While this section is no doubt the most controversial and intriguing of OUATIH, the majority of the film isn't about the events that transpired that night. No, this movie is about Hollywood -- the glamour, the glitz, the blood, the sweat, and the tears that those in the film industry shed. Dalton loves his career, and he's sad to see it take a nosedive. Booth equally enjoys his work, but he also loves his dog, working outside, and driving around. He's a blue-collar man who found a way to walk in the shadow of the limelight. He walks among them, but he's not one of them. While we don't hear much from Tate, we see how she seems to love life. She feels proud of what she did on-screen, yet she's also content to go to parties and spend time with her friends.

So whose story is it? Is it Dalton's? The guy whose career seems to be slipping away from him, his fear of failure hanging ever-presently over him? Is it Booth's? The man who doesn't quite fit in -- yet he's found a soul mate and a place he can serve. Is it Tate? The it girl of the moment, whose life seems to be at a crossroads?

I'm such a fan of Leonardo DiCaprio but Brad Pitt stole the show here. Although we hear of questionable things Cliff Booth has done, on screen we see a loyal friend. Dalton doesn't know what a treasure he has in Booth. Booth plays that friend who is happy to live in someone's shadow. And he does it without resentment or entitlement. He's the moral center of this movie. The camera is completely in love with him, too, lingering on his slow smile and fit figure.

This movie is a departure and a triumph for Tarantino. Here we see a filmmaker in control. Who doesn't have to shock audiences to gain attention. It's rumored that this is the next to last movie Tarantino will make. I can't imagine that would be true, but if his future films are like this, I'm there for it.


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