By David Martin

A unique Hollywood story told


August 22, 2019

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is the tale of two Hollywoods: one that’s fading into irrelevance and one of a fresher version blossoming in its place.

The film mostly follows actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his longtime stuntman and friend Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as they struggle to make ends meet in 1969. The pair’s careers peaked with the TV western “Bounty Law” and in the years following the series’ end, find Dalton’s star fading. Dalton continues acting in various bad guy of the week guest star roles for television, while Booth does odd jobs for Dalton, including being his driver. Booth’s career is also dogged by an incident with Bruce Lee on the set of “Green Hornet” and rumors regarding the death of his wife.

The duo’s story is juxtaposed with actress Shanon Tate (Margot Robbie) as her star raises. While Dalton films a pilot for another western series and Booth fixes the television antenna at Dalton’s house, Tate sits in a theater and listens as the audience reacts to her role in “The Wreaking Crew,” a Dean Martin spy comedy she costars in. She and husband, Roman Polanski, are the hottest couple in Hollywood, with Polanski continuing to garner attention for his 1968 film “Rosemary’s Baby.” The couple also happen to live next door to Dalton.

Given the era the film takes place in, people with an understanding of the historical context framing the story will see the heavy foreshadowing leading to its climax. Yet, the movie doesn’t end the way history dictates it should, opting for a violent and darkly comedic finale that can only come from a Tarantino flick.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is a much more meditative film for Tarantino, who has made a name for himself with highly violent and stylish films. Many of the Tarantino tropes are here, such as free-flowing foul language, pop culture references and homages to other films. But, the movie’s main theme of a man coming to terms with his career fading as Hollywood continues seeking the next big thing feels much more personal than the themes found in Tarantino’s previous movies.

While he has discussed several potential projects, such as a continuation of the “Kill Bill” story and a desire to film episodes of the fictional “Bounty Law” series, Tarantino has also spoken publicly about eventually stepping away from film making. Tarantino continues to be the auteur he’s always been, but he’s also no longer one of Hollywood’s notable up and comers and his star power will eventually fade as younger film makers with fresh ideas take his place. The new will always replace the old and in a place like Hollywood, it doesn’t take long for the old to be swept away in the flurry of excitement following its newest attractions.

Despite the themes of the new replacing the old found throughout, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” ends on an upbeat note. Dalton is entering a new phase of his life at the film’s conclusion and a chance meeting in the final moments may ultimately reinvigorate his career. He still has a chance to become the movie star he wants to be.

This might be Tarantino saying there’s still opportunities for an aging filmmaker and the future for actors and directors of his generation that are still out there.


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