SPOILER ALERT: This review will reveal major plot points and twists.
Ever wondered what a buddy-cop film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt would be like? Wonder no more, director-screenwriter Quentin Tarantino has delivered just that, but darker.
The star-studded new film, “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” premieres today, July 26. The movie is long, with a run time over 2 1/2 hours, and undoubtedly entertaining, receiving an 88% certified fresh rating from critics on the website Rotten Tomatoes.
The film is set in the late-1960s and follows Rick Dalton, a has-been Western-star played by DiCaprio, and his stunt-man and best friend, Cliff Booth played by Pitt. The two give excellent, yet predictable performances. Dalton is DiCaprio’s signature emotionally-unstable man-child and Booth is a smooth, cool-headed tough guy, Pitt’s specialty.
Dalton is the neighbor of real-life director Roman Polanski and his wife, actress Sharon Tate. The film is a historical fiction, in the loosest sense of the term, and focuses on the Manson Family cult’s murder of Tate, played by Margot Robbie.
The movie is funny despite what might be expected considering the subject matter, and it is surprisingly low-gore for Tarantino. The set and costume pieces are also worthy of praise, as the film depicts style changes between the late-1960s and early-1970s, as well as those seen in Western shows and movies of the era.
“Once Upon a Time In Hollywood” also features cameos from what feels what most of present-day Hollywood, including, but not limited to, Kurt Russell, Lena Dunham, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning and Al Pacino. It was also the last film of Luke Perry, the “Beverly Hills, 90210” actor who died from a heart attack in March of 2019.
While entertaining, the film has received some well-founded criticism on several points.
One of the most prominent complaints is how the film, and Tarantino, treated the film’s main female character, Tate. For a character so heavily featured in the trailer, and at the heart of the true story off of which the film is based, Tate’s character is shockingly one-dimensional and under-developed.
This is at no fault of Robbie, who stood out in the few scenes she was in. However, the film treats Tate, who was 26 years old and 8 months pregnant at the time of her murder, almost as a child. She was shown as sweet and innocent and even a little bit of a tease, but not much else.
A similar issue focuses on the liberties the film took with the story of the Manson Family murders. The killing-spree that happened on August 9, 1969, was brutal and grotesque. Four cult members killed not only Tate that night, but also her three houseguests: Jay Sebring, Abigail Folger and Wojciech Frykowski.
Note to reader: the rest of the review contains major film spoilers.
In “Once Upon a Time In Hollywood,” the real-life scenario is really only the backdrop of the story of Dalton and Booth’s friendship. The murders are single handedly prevented by Booth, who is tripping on acid and armed only with his hand-to-hand combat skills, his pet dog Brandy and a can of dog food.
The night ends with Dalton finally getting to meet his beautiful neighbor and seemingly looking forward to a future of regaining relevance after thwarting the hippie gang.
To some, this cheery conclusion, coupled with the ease that Booth took out the cult members, might cheapen the tragedy of the true story of the Manson Family murders.
Additionally, the film has some questionable scenes involving other female characters.
Booth has several flirty interactions with one of the girls in the Manson Family, who is visibly underaged. For reference, actor Brad Pitt is 55 years old. Booth is propositioned by the girl, but ultimately declines, guessing she’s under 18.
However, he expresses that he only declined because he doesn’t want to go to jail and continues to flirt with the girl, holding her hand and letting her lay on his lap.
This is especially concerning considering this is Tarantino’s first film not assosciated with producer Harvey Weinstein, who had sexual assault allegations levied against him that helped set the #MeToo movement in action.
DiCaprio has also been criticized on multiple occasions for dating women who are over 20 years his junior.
Booth is also accused in the film of murdering his ex-wife and getting away with it. As one of the film’s main protagonists, you might expect that this would be a false accusation. However, in a flash-back scene, it’s heavily implied that he did kill his wife and that she might’ve deserved it for being, well, really rude.
On top of the film’s lack of regard for female characters, the film is questionable when it comes to racial issues and diversity. Whereas his film “Django Unchained” was criticised for its gratuitous use of the N-word, this film’s minority characters are mostly Hispanic extras, who either are on the set of Dalton’s Westerns or low-wage workers like waiters or valets.
The film’s most significant non-white character is late martial artist Bruce Lee, depicted by Mike Moh. Lee is easily beat by Booth in a fight, and the depiction at its best is less than flattering.
Overall, the film, though fun, seemed to be behind the times. The movie’s issues could’ve easily flown under the radar 10 years ago, but society is evolving.
Here’s to hoping Tarantino’s next film will be just as entertaining, but will instead rely on the director’s immense talent rather than outdated, exclusionary humor.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now playing in theaters around Athens.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, Al Pacino was misspelled. This has since then been corrected. The Red & Black regrets this error.