Once upon a time there was a movie with such a cleverly crafted marketing strategy that the internet was flooded with hot takes about the film before anyone had actually laid eyes on it.
That film is Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the new movie from the brilliant yet often problematic mind of Quentin Tarantino. The film focuses on Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading actor who used to star in a hit TV Western series and is now struggling to find supporting roles in B-grade movies while falling into booze-filled moments of emotional angst over the way the world is passing him by.
The one constant in Rick’s life is Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a Vietnam War veteran who started off as Rick’s stunt double but is now mostly his driver, confidant and the person who keeps all the scattered pieces of his life (very loosely) together.
Oh, and he also potentially killed his wife, but the movie is not super keen to have you dwell on that.
On this episode of Mamamia’s daily entertainment podcast, The Spill hosts Laura Brodnik and Kee Reece give a spoiler-free review of Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.
One of the smartest elements of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was Tarantino’s decision to take DiCaprio and Pitt, arguably two of the world’s most charismatic and alluring movie stars that time has failed to slow down and reinvent them on screen as bumbling and unlikeable characters who the audience is encouraged to be entertained by but not actually root for.
There’s a moment in the film where DiCaprio’s Rick is positively child-like in his emotions as he tears up in a scene while playing ‘the big bad’ in new Western, a clever take on the way actor’s emotions can become stunted after so many years of having their value placed only on their power to play make-believe.
On the flip side of this is Pitt’s Cliff, a leering henchman of sorts who moves silently around the edges of the glittering world of Hollywood that employee him and is in possession of a violent streak that breaks free at inopportune moments, such as when he challenges Bruce Lee. Pitt’s best turn in the film comes after Cliff gets high off an acid-laced cigarette, allowing both Pitt and the character he’s playing to let all hell break loose.
Having Once Upon a Time in Hollywood framed as both a sensual love letter to Tinseltown and a cautionary tale about its evils told through the eyes of Rick and Cliff is a well-executed one, but it’s with the Margot Robbie factor of the film where things start to get mighty complicated.
Robbie is utterly beguiling in the role of Sharon Tate, who, unlike the fictional characters of Rick and Cliff, was actually a real person who walked the earth and whose backstory has been re-imagined in this gruesome yet glittering mega-budget film.