On August 8, 1969. For many Americans —and some foreigners and movie fans and crime stories fans— this is an infamous date, marked by blood: it was that day that the Mason family murders occurred, where, among other people, actress Sharon Tate, wife —at that time— of film director Roman Polanski died.
Initially, it was assumed that Once upon a time… in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino's ninth movie was going to be about that event, but as usually happens with the famous filmmaker, the final product ends up challenging the expectations of his fans, giving us a history that uses real events as a basis, to develop something much more unpredictable and historically flexible. Once upon a time ... in Hollywood is too long and, at times, self-indulgent, but it contains enough bright moments to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat for almost three hours. Not many directors are able to do something like that.
The protagonists of Once upon a time ... in Hollywood are Hollywood actors Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend and double action, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). The first one is depressed because he thinks he has left his best days behind - he is no longer an action star, and rather he works as a villain in some television series - while the second tries to live his life calmed, and help his friend in what he can.
During the first two-thirds of the movie, we see how these two characters try to get ahead. Rick is motivated to give his best performance in a long time, while Cliff lives at the moment, and more disturbingly, is taken to the Ranch of the Mason Cult for a girl named Pussycat (Margaret Qualley). Tarantino is not interested in developing a traditional narrative or moving things fast - the cult is present gradually, disturbingly, while establishing a palpable sense of time and place.
As some fans had already guessed, the main thesis of Once upon a time ... in Hollywood is that, by including fictional characters in a real context, the development of events that we already knew in advance can change. It is the same premise that many time-travel films handle: if one, as a modern person, returns to the past, their mere presence alters the events that take place. Now, the way in which Tarantino alters the real events is something that we do not intend to reveal here. It is a narrative turn, to a certain extent, predictable, but the same results in some of the most shocking, hilarious and, being honest, satisfactory moments of the film.
As is often the case in Tarantino films, the recreation of the era is impeccable, but not only content with showing characters in the sixties or including a soundtrack full of successes of that decade. Once upon a time ... in Hollywood transports the viewer to 1969, making use of all the tricks that one could imagine to develop a palpable atmosphere, and to establish with undeniable success a very specific period of American history.
Everything, from the way the characters speak, to how they move and act and look, feels like the era, and since the film was filmed in 35 mm, the image has a warm, almost vintage quality. Add to this the recreation of movies and series of the 60s, and even the inclusion of Rick Dalton in real productions of the time, and “Once upon a time… in Hollywood” ends up feeling almost like a lost film of that decade. It is a truly magnificent audiovisual work.
As expected, both Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt are great. The first develops Rick as a desperate, alcoholic man, who wants to recover the glory of the past. There is a certain parallelism between the character and Tarantino, but it is less pathetic than they might think. In the same way, that the talented filmmaker feels immense nostalgia for the golden age of Hollywood, Dalton feels the same for his times of glory. For his part, Brad Pitt gives Cliff charisma and an amazing feeling of relaxation. The chemistry between the two, moreover, is practically perfect.