"Hey. You are Rick f*****ing Dalton. Don't you forget it."
Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Dakota Fanning, Luke Perry, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Julia Butters, Austin Butler, Bruce Dern, Mike Moh, Maya Hawke, Lena Dunham, and Kurt Russell
In a television interview, Quentin Tarantino said that he has wanted to make 'a hangout' movie for some time. And yes, in 'Once Upon a Time' he surely has made that movie. There are people driving across swanky neighborhoods, fleeting moments and faint glimpses not fully looked into, and brief conversations that don't go anywhere.
Tarantino has made, no, pulled off his idea of a hangout movie somehow. However, one can't be sure if Once Upon a Time feels like a Tarantino movie. Sure, there are lots of feet and fists and his uncanny dialogues. Tarantino tinkers with his movie references and presents a delightful pastiche. One's heart swells when it sees a dozen of Tarantino regulars popping up in little parts on screen, with Tarantino even parodying his work. But something was amiss as the end credits rolled.
Leonardo Caprio plays Rick Dalton, an actor who has been typecast as a 'Western' guy. His only source of hope and companionship comes in the form of Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), both his stuntman and his good friend. Times are hard and rapidly changing, and nobody would be making Westerns anymore. Rick, who's been pigeon-holed all his life will soon be rendered obsolete, left to the mercy of film offers from Rome; which are Spaghetti Westerns to his disappointment, courtesy his agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino).
Cliff does his best to keep Rick's spirit up, but he too has his baggage. Once a Green Beret he is now on the fringes, barely scrounging for work. Nonetheless, he is a good friend and stuntman, and according to Tarantino, there was once a time when he threw Bruce Lee into a car, resulting in being fired from a job. But hey, Cliff isn't bitter over it and thinks it was fair enough.
While Rick and Cliff are fading stars, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is a star on the rise in this New Hollywood Tarantino looks back at. And what do you know? Tate is not only living next door to Rick but is also married to (ahem ahem) Roman Polanski. It is here that Rick dreams of a comeback, and we believe him too. Meanwhile, Cliff befriends a hippie and comes across a potentially subversive group of individuals. The trouble will start to brew, as these three's world might come crumbling down in a wild night of terrors.
The movie's USP was the Manson Murders as it was said to be an important part of the script. Charles Manson, the man who unleashed killers lose isn't there, and the audience can't help but feel cheated when it hears him as a passing remark. Tarantino once again plays his favorite game of revisionist history. It worked incredibly well in 'Inglourious Basterds' but comes off a pompous and highly offensive, something he is already in news for.
The streak of misogyny still shows, as there's some mindless brutality directed at women. An average movie-going audience can get along with 'suspension of disbelief', but it is still upsetting to watch women getting beaten up. The pacing is sluggish and the mammoth runtime does it no favors; not to mention an unfairly ambiguous ending.
Tarantino has given us a 1970s era from his memory with pitch-perfect set-designs. Leo as Rick is excellent, the most vulnerable he's been for a while and his chemistry with Brad Pitt is what sells this product. Even though he makes some questionable choices, Pitt is in top-form here and gets to flex his comedy muscles with his role. As always, the soundtrack in a Tarantino film is nothing but the best. 'Once Upon a Time' is replete with pop-culture references in the Tarantino signature style.
Margot Robbie nails Sharon Tate, the wide-eyed, upbeat beauty who was full of endless joy. Margaret Qualley as Pussycat holds her own very well against someone like Brad Pitt. In a film featuring who's who of Hollywood, the biggest scene-stealer is Julia Butters. She plays Trudi Fraser, a young method actor who acts a lifetime's worth in her limited time on screen.
If you are going in expecting a fast-paced Tarantino film, this might not serve you well. But hardcore Tarantino fans will have a ball with his. Tarantino might have made his most personal movie which is also the funniest movie of his career, but it feels largely underwhelming.