Review: “Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood”


Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt stare amusingly at the camera. The interview is black and white, the accents are Western. From the first frame, this is no ordinary movie.

This is another time when guys wear fringe, girls wear go-go boots and you are either a Twiggy or a Rolling Stone. The Moon landing is about to happen, and Woodstock will be at summer’s end. 

This is 1969, and this is Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film.

Rick and Cliff get in their 1966 Cadillac DeVille and cruise off. The music starts blasting. Sharon Tate, the ethereal ‘60s Hollywood darling played by Margot Robbie, does the twist in a mini dress. The movie has just begun.

Rick Dalton, a struggling actor played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is perfectly engaging. With a healthy amount of self-hatred, biting humor and insecurity, he’s the guy everyone can relate to. The world has passed him by and he’s been left in the dark. 

Cliff Booth is a rough-and-tumble stunt man portrayed by Brad Pitt who has the right amount of smugness and intelligence to win over the entire audience. You’ll see traces of John Wayne, a little bit of Clint Eastwood and Peter Fonda, along with a dose of Pitt himself. 

For me, DiCaprio does an incredible job. While DiCaprio may have won the award for best actor, Pitt may just have the highest place in my heart. His Cliff Booth is authentic, a real guy’s-guy. While Rick seems like someone you would meet in school or on the street, Cliff is so cool he belongs in a movie. That’s not to say that he isn’t realistic. Pitt’s Cliff is just as nuanced and real as DiCaprio’s Dalton. Rick is the guy you know, Cliff is the guy you wish you knew. Both work perfectly.

The movie is an homage to Tate, the ‘60s, movies and LA. Tarantino’s favorite things all packed together in one violent, hilarious and heartbreaking movie.

The city we all know and love, and are fortunate to live near, is the fourth star of the movie. The 101 freeway is a major character, as is a movie ranch in Chatsworth, the old-world restaurant Musso and Frank’s, the Westwood Bruin theater, the Hollywood Hills and even close by Van Nuys all play their parts. 

But let’s not forget the hippies, you can’t forget the hippies: pot-smoking, suede-wearing, concert-going, authority-hating hippies. You’ll either love them or hate them, probably a mix of both. 

Like all generations of teens, the teens of 1969 were an eclectic mix, from the nice squares that went to school and watched “The Brady Bunch,” to the middle group that watched “The Mod Squad” and did the twist, and, finally, the girls and guys who hung out on the boulevards, smoking acid-dipped cigarettes, hitching for rides and flipping off cops. You’ll see the latter in this movie.

The final star of the film is the music. Classic ‘60s rock, folk and pop pave the way for all the movie’s scenes. Almost all of the music is from the ‘60s, with a few ‘50s tunes mixed in. The music transports you to the era. It amplifies the characters, saddens the humor and makes the violence humorous.

Supporting characters include Steve McQueen, Michelle Phillips, Jay Sebring, Cass “Mamma Cass” Elliot, Roman Polanski, Bruce Lee, the infamous Manson family and an adorably vicious pitbull. 

If you know who any of these people are, definitely see the movie. If you don’t, Lena Dunham Dakota Fanning, Damian Lewis, Margaret Qualley, Al Pacino and Luke Perry may ring a bell. This is a movie about and filled with stars.

This is escapism at its finest — with great music, two best buds and clothes you could really dig. Rick and Cliff are the best friends you wish you and your friends were. Sharon’s life is the one you wish you had, and the time period is the one you wish you could visit, or better, live in.

Seeing this movie in a theater is pure bliss. You’re somewhere else. Watching this movie in theaters just isn’t the same as seeing it on your couch. In the theater, you’re in Tarantino’s world. On the couch, you’re aware you’re watching a movie.

Sometimes it’s hard to live in this modern world. Political turmoil, an ever-changing social landscape, crippling addiction to technology and celebrities we all seem to hate: it’s an increasingly scary life. But with movies like this, for two hours and 40 minutes plus trailers, you can say goodbye to your troubles and go back to a groovy world, an absurd world that looks nothing like ours, but at the same time, quite similar.

P.S. Stay past the credits.