"Interesting, but Extremely Violent and Eventually Underwhelming"
What You Need To Know:
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD has some captivating scenes. However, the plot meanders too much with scenes that don’t seem to lead anywhere, and the movie’s filled with abundant foul language and brutal, extreme violence, especially at the end. There’s some substance abuse and some lewd dialogue. That said, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD makes the evil Manson Family the bad guys and acknowledges the strong bond of friendship between the actor and his stunt double. Media-wise moviegoers will find the movie excessive.
Quentin Tarantino’s ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD tells the story of a Hollywood stunt double and his long-time actor friend, a TV western star who’s been consigned to playing villain roles, and their eventual encounter with elements of the Manson Family, who in real life went on a killing spree in 1969. Despite some captivating scenes, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD meanders too much when it comes to plot and has abundant foul language, some substance abuse, and extreme violence, especially at the end, though it clearly makes the evil Manson Family the bad guys and acknowledges the strong bond of friendship between the actor and his stunt double. The movie’s violence and crude dialogue are excessive and rather gratuitous.
Set in 1969, the movie stars Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, who is the stunt double to former TV western star Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio. Rick has a drinking problem and has been relegated to playing villain roles on TV. Meanwhile, Cliff is now working as Rick’s driver, because Rick’s driver’s license has been suspended.
In a meeting at a famous Hollywood restaurant, an agent tells Rick that, by being relegated to villain roles, his career will soon dwindle down to nothing. The agent offers to get Rick some hero roles making spaghetti westerns in Italy.
Outside the restaurant, the agent’s assessment drives Rick to tears, but Cliff encourages his friend to keep his hopes high. Maybe working in Italy will be a good thing, he says. Rick, however, is not convinced.
On the way back to drop Rick at his house, Cliff catches the eye of a pretty young black-haired hippie girl walking with a group of other young hippies who’ve just shoplifted some food. At Rick’s house, Rick is thrilled when he catches a glimpse of Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski, his new next door neighbors. Polanski is the hottest director in town, Rick reminds Cliff, adding that Polanski’s fresh off the success of the movie ROSEMARY’S BABY.
The next day, Rick is scheduled to play the villain in a pilot for a new TV western. He has a conversation with the new star of the show and converses with the 8-year-old precocious child actress who’s playing a girl that Rick’s character kidnaps and holds for ransom. The child inspires Rick to give a great performance while shooting the pilot.
Meanwhile, Cliff eventually gives the black-haired girl a ride back to the rundown Spahn Movie Ranch where Cliff and Rick used to make BOUNTY LAW, their TV series. Cliff becomes suspicious about the whereabouts of the old landlord, whom he used to know. He investigates and finds the old man has gone blind but enjoys having the involvement of the Manson girls, because of the sexual favors they grant him. However, he beats up one of the young men, who slashed one of his car’s tires.
Cliff’s visit to the ranch eventually sparks a change in the plans of the cult members Charlie Manson sends to murder actress Sharon Tate and her houseguests.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is laced with a series of captivating scenes. Rick’s conversation with the child actress is funny and even touching. Eventually, her work ethic inspires him to give a great performance in a key scene in the TV pilot, where he holds the girl’s character hostage. Another good scene is Cliff’s visit to Spawn Ranch where the Manson Family lives. The scene is filled with tension and suspense as Cliff investigates what’s happened to the elderly owner of the ranch. Hollywood Director Howard Hawks once said that, when he made movies, the most he expected to achieve, besides entertaining the audience, was to produce two or three great scenes. This doesn’t work, however, in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD, because the plot keeps meandering. For example, although at the end it becomes clear the scene has a purpose to it, a lengthy scene involves Cliff slowly feeding his Pitbull dog two large cans of gooey dog food. The dog waits anxiously until Cliff gives him the signal to eat.
As usual, Quentin Tarantino’s movie contains abundant foul language, including many strong profanities. There are also a couple lines featuring lewd dialogue. The star actor in the movie struggles with a drinking problem. Also, in a crucial scene, the stunt double decides to smoke a cigarette laced with LSD that he bought off a hippie girl on the street. Finally, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD has several scenes of extreme violence. The violence at the end is especially over the top and excessive.
Clearly, though, the Manson Family is depicted as the evil bunch that they were in real life. Also, the movie extols the strong friendship between the star actor and his stunt double. “You’re a really good friend,” the actor tells his stunt double at the end.
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio give the best performances in the movie. Margo Robbie also gives an endearing performance as the happy Sharon Tate, who’s enjoying her newfound stardom before her brutal run-in with the Manson Family. The other performances range from good to just okay. Despite its good intentions, though, ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD is underwhelming.