Once Upon A Time in Hollywood - Four Stars, Mesmerizing, Magical

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Are we witnessing the emergence of a kinder, gentler Quentin Tarantino? Once Upon a Time in Hollywood introduces Tarantino as a storyteller who doesn’t punctuate each scene, on eight-minute intervals, with squeamish and often gratuitous violence.

Not that the genre hasn’t worked for him, it has which makes this foray into the absence of those visuals tricky and in truth places more emphasis on his talent. Not negating the memorable performances of the top tier talent who have created iconic unforgettable and extraordinary characters that pass-through my mind even as I write.

As we all know 1969 in Hollywood started slow, with the nation still reeling from the loss of Bobby Kennedy and ended with carnage in the Hollywood Hills as Sharon Tate, the actress and wife of Director Roman Polanski, and her house guests were viciously murdered by the cult crazed Manson Family.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood begins a mind trip back to 1969, Tarantino insert time stamps across the bottom of the screen which feeds the audience without making them think. The film opens with a black and white television sequence from the hit spaghetti western, Bounty Law, with lead Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo Dicaprio and his stunt double Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt in an on-set interview.

The film centers around a year in the life of TV star Dalton, who is more than simply a sensitive soul. He, outside of his character, in “real” life is not so smart or confident. He’s in the system when good looks were enough. He's flawed, a slow reader who has his lines were delivered via tape, and he’s a BIG TV star. Not so smart, super-sensitive, with limited people skills, and an admitted alcoholic. And he makes the studios lots of money.

His stunt double, Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt, is a street wise handy man cum stunt man, who hasn’t worked in the industry for some time. With one trip to Booth’s rundown trailer behind the Van Nuys drive-in, we understand why when Rick calls, he answers. On his payroll, when the boss needs a ride, he arrives on time, ready; when he needs his antenna fixed, he’s on the roof. House-sitting in the Hollywood Hills, with access to the celebrity lifestyle, part of TV star team, free and easy.

As we find out, he killed his wife and got away with it as the story is told and retold across the studio lot which has made work, genuine, stuntman work, more difficult to get. Often, he’s suited by wardrobe, which helps the ego, but only paid if he stunts. So, more freebies, the perks of someone else's stardom.

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Although, when Tarantino replays the scene, we see a queasy unsteady Booth, on a boat, dressed for spearfishing and his wife, in a mood, without seeing the finale of the moment one is left to wonder if it was an horrible accident or a miscarriage of justice.

Dalton, who acted on the advice of his management bought a house with the first big money he received. A bungalow on Cielo Drive, a cul-de-sac in Benedict Canyon, just as Dalton and Booth are returning home, his neighbors, Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie and Roman Polanksi, played by Rafal Zawierucha, are returning home.

Still reeling from a meeting with film producer Marvin Schwarzs, played by Al Pacino, who explains the fundamentals of the Hollywood life span of a bad guy. Rick is concerned his career is in a downward slump, that wears the mask of bit bad guy parts. By mid-summer Dalton has taken the three-picture deal in Rome, that Schwarzs was introducing.

As the Dalton and Booth return home from Rome, on a hot August night in 1969, with Dalton’s new wife and more than two dozen trucks in tow, the two friends decide a good old-fashioned drunk is in order to celebrate.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, from Sony Pictures Entertainment, takes creative license to create an ending that has the audience erupting in applause and for one moment allows us to rewrite history and live a different moment.

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Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood stars Leonardo Dicaprio, Brat Pitt, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, Dakota Fanning, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Rumer Willis, Lorenzo Izzo, Bruce Dern, and Al Pacino with Luke Perry.

The supporting cast, including  Musso and Frank, the oldest Hollywood hot spot, a legendary high end restaurant frequented by Hollywood's stars, starlets movers and shakers, along with a trip to the Playboy Mansion for a legendary party featuring supporting players portraying Steve McQueen, Mama Cass, Connie Stevens. 

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood celebrates the California myth, orange trees in every yard, not a care in the world, never ending sunny days, riding down the highway, windows down, radio on, loud, and cool tunes that transport.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, a four star, mesmerizing, magical trip in time, opens in theaters everywhere July 26, 2019. See it, experience it. Sit back and take the ride.

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