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Monday, September 2, 2019


(Brad Pitt & Leonardo di Caprio)

Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, his ninth, is a nuanced love letter to late ‘60s Hollywood. Although 161 minutes long, it’s utterly absorbing. (Review by Patrick Compton - 9/10)

If you love movies, particularly Westerns, you’ll surely appreciate this homage to the Hollywood of 50-odd years ago. We aren’t talking art films here, but the kind of B-movies that were popular fodder in both the cinemas and on TV halfway through the last century.

The plot is simple enough. Leonardo di Caprio plays an actor on the skids, Rick Dalton, while Brad Pitt is his stunt double, Cliff Booth. Dalton is keenly aware that his once considerable star is on the wane. Once the star of a television series, Bounty Law (not a million miles away from Bonanza, a show that I enjoyed back in the day), he is now reduced to playing tuppeny-halfpenny bad guys who always get their comeuppance.

Although there are moments when he retains his mojo, Dalton increasingly feels sorry for himself as he realises that the star factory is poised to ruthlessly eject him. This feeling gains a kind of morbid intensity as it swims in all the booze he treats himself to.

Booth, on the other hand, is something of a stoic Hemingwayesque character and Pitt gives his best performance in years. Less a stuntman these days, more Dalton’s gofer, driver and buddy, he keeps an amused distance from everything that goes on – except when people seriously invade his space. Apart from his relationship with Dalton, his best friend is his dog with whom he shares a number of delightful scenes.

As always with Tarantino, the movie is a mosaic of fact and fiction. It’s no accident that the film’s title includes “once upon a time”, which is the classic opening of a fairytale; it also echoes the titles of two films from one of Tarantino’s heroes, Sergio Leone: Once Upon a Time in the West and Once Upon a Time in America. Like Leone, Tarantino is investigating the mythology and iconography of his subject.

The film is rich in the songs as well as the general look of the period, and one suspects that some of Tarantino’s happiest times were spent shooting simple scenes featuring characters riding in cars through Los Angeles listening to their favourite songs of the moment. Close attention is also paid to famous buildings, bars, movie houses and restaurants as well as period celebrities and their clothes, haircuts and the like.

There’s a warmth and humour here that reveals a more mature Tarantino, and he also allows his film to breathe, for little moments to take their sweet time. Of course, this being Tarantino, violence is never far away. In particular, there’s a sinister narrative thread that weaves its way through the sometimes languorously portrayed action, culminating in an explosion of violence in the shock ending.

This thread involves the notorious Charles Manson and his “family” of so-called hippies, who we know perpetrated a series of grisly murders in 1969. Tarantino situates one of his longest scenes in the same location – an old film set on the outskirts of LA – where the family once lived. Sharon Tate (wife of director Roman Polanski), the most famous of Manson’s victims, is beautifully played as a kind of golden child by Margot Robbie, but filmgoers mustn’t automatically assume that her life will play out in a similar manner in Tarantino’s version of the drama.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood opened in Durban on August 30, 2019. – Patrick Compton