Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood – Film Review

Los Angeles… The entertainment capital of the world. A city of opportunities. For some, a city of love. Apparently, according to the director himself, his latest film, “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood,” is a love letter to Los Angeles. Last year, at Filmekimi, we saw “Under the Silver Lake,” directed by David Robert Mitchell, which was also a love letter to Los Angeles. We could say that Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood is Tarantino’s most personal film and the closest one to “Pulp Fiction.” When we first heard about it, there were rumors that it would be a film about the Manson murders. However, we can see that we have a film that is not about the Manson murders but about preventing them. Tarantino has gone even crazier this time and turned the project that he originally wanted to make into a novel into a film that rewrites history.

Let’s briefly touch upon the plot… The story of Rick Dalton, who usually plays the bad guy in Western movies and dies at the end according to the film rules of the time, is actually the film. Rick and his bizarre but equally talented stunt double, Cliff Booth, find themselves in a career crisis after working on the pilot episode of a project. Meanwhile, Rick receives an offer from Italy to star in a Spaghetti Western film. While deciding whether to go or not, he learns that his next-door neighbor is Roman Polanski. Polanski and his pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, are Rick’s neighbors. As soon as we see Sharon Tate, the story begins to progress with parallel cuts between Rick, Cliff, and Sharon Tate.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

Let me start by saying that Quentin Tarantino is my favorite director and the only person who made me fall in love with cinema. Because his passion for cinema is incredible. “Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood” is actually a love letter to the cinema. Throughout the film, we take a look at the Western movies and TV shows of the time and visit the behind-the-scenes world. We come across lovely details about how things work behind the scenes, the details of the acting profession, and how their careers progressed. The director shows us that everything in Hollywood is not as cute as it seems by simultaneously showcasing the media faces of the actors and their uneasy side behind the scenes.

On one hand, there’s Rick Dalton, who is actually extremely talented but has not made the right career choices and is essentially a good person. In Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, he is experiencing a career decline. On the other hand, there’s Sharon Tate, who considers her career to be on the rise and is quite pleased about it. Like some newcomer actresses, she measures the audience’s reaction to her scenes by going to see her own films, and she enjoys the partial fame. Sharon Tate was never a good actress. In fact, her movies were always criticized. But her beauty and charming personality always kept her in the spotlight. I don’t know if Rick Dalton’s line “The director of the goddamn Rosemary’s Baby is my Neighbor” was chosen specifically, but I think it’s because Sharon Tate was almost cast in the lead role. Polanski insisted on Tate, but the producers chose Mia Farrow.

The story takes place in 1969, the year of the Manson Family Murders that would change American history from top to bottom. Charles Manson, a mentally ill person who spent his life in prison, is raising a hippie army he calls the Manson Family at Spahn Ranch, a former film location. Manson, who is trying to make a music career but is unsuccessful and is being belittled by his producer, seeks revenge and finds it by killing the wealthy and successful people he calls “pigs.” On August 8, Tex Watson and three other Manson members entered Polanski’s house and killed everyone inside, including 8-month-pregnant Sharon Tate. The next day, a group led by Leslie Van Houten and Charles Manson enters the LaBianca house and kills two more people.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

These deaths, especially the death of Sharon Tate, caused a great deal of media attention. Some accused Tate of being involved in demonic activities, while others wrote articles about a “race war.” But ultimately, at least upon reading about it, the only thing that becomes clear is that Charles Manson, like Hitler, could not accept criticism of his art and allowed his ego to lead him to seek revenge by killing people. Once again, it’s an ego issue. In last year’s Filmekimi, we saw a cult leader in the film Mandy who killed his victims when his music was criticized. This is actually an example of the tremendous impact that the Manson Murders had on people.

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***This is where it gets spoiler-ish, as the following contains details that may ruin the experience. However, please be careful nonetheless.***

The main story goes like this, but Tarantino has slightly altered it. He has inserted two fictitious characters right into the middle of this tragic story, playing with the timeline of history. Just like in Pulp Fiction, the characters’ paths cross one way or another. This is actually my favorite part of the movie. On the night of August 8, Tex and his gang arrive at the neighborhood where they plan to commit a murder. However, someone who wasn’t supposed to be there appears and disrupts their plan. Rick, who hates hippies, is disturbed by the noise of the car outside due to having consumed too much alcohol and goes out to confront the hippies who were there to commit murder. Thus, the Tate murder is prevented… or, in other words, the target is changed. Instead of entering the Tate house, the hippies decide to enter Rick Dalton’s house. But this time, they face Cliff Booth, and he won’t beg for his life.

I don’t know whether Tarantino found some relief by not only preventing the Tate murder but also brutally killing Tex and his gang in the movie Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood. I pondered this because he recently designed the most brutal fight scene in his movies. This film centers around the coincidence that an actor and his stunt double come across the Tate murderers. I think the reason why Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood wasn’t well-liked is that it is personal and filled with intricate details that we may not be familiar with. The film is full of incredibly subtle details.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

The hippies justify their decision to kill people they call “pigs” based on the violent movies they saw on TV. In the film, they decide to commit murder by killing the killers. Interestingly, in an interview, Sharon Tate was asked about her nude scenes, and she said:

“While there is so much violence on television, my nudity shouldn’t be a problem.”

Violence is one of the most significant components of Tarantino’s films. In Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, the director shows the real-world consequences of the violence that they have become known for. The 1969 murders were one of the most extreme examples of the violence depicted in films, which have normalized it for people. So much so that American audiences watching Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood responded with laughter and applause to the scene where Cliff throws a can at Susan Atkins, also known as Gypsy, in the film. Although the Manson Family’s intentions were unclear, the events that occurred were not surprising. After seeing Cliff Booth, portrayed by Brad Pitt, Tex utters the infamous line he supposedly said to Woytek Frykowski, whom he actually killed:

“I am the devil, and I’m here to do the devil’s business.”

Similarly, the scene where Sharon Tate’s leg is stabbed with a knife during the murders is accurately portrayed in the film. We learn all the information about the Manson murders from Leslie Van Houten, who became the killer the following day. Although the other Manson family members later reveal more details, Van Houten provides most of the information. You can see Tex’s information in the second season of Mindhunter. The Polanski house where the murders occurred was later demolished and replaced with a new one.

Another scene that prompts the question “Why was it included?” is Cliff Booth’s visit to the Spahn Ranch with Pussycat, played by Margaret Qualley, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in the film IO this year. Cliff Booth insists on seeing the owner of the place, George Spahn. This is also based on a true story. Donald Shae, an ex-stuntman and one of Manson’s victims, had warned George Spahn to keep away from the hippies so they wouldn’t take advantage of him.

Although the fight scene where Bruce Lee said, “I would kill Muhammad Ali if we fought,” was entirely fictional, he did express the belief that he could kill Ali in a real fight.

Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood

In his fourth collaboration with Michael Madson, Tarantino took a shorter amount of time to make the film. Interestingly, the yellow Cadillac featured in the movie is owned by Madson and receives more screen time than he does. Maya Hawke and Rumer Willis, the children of Uma Thurman and Bruce Willis, also appear in the film.

The place where Sharon Tate asks, “Is this the premiere of a porn movie?” is called Eros and is owned by Tarantino. El Cayote, where Tate and her friends enter, is her favorite restaurant and the last place she visited before her death.

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The scene where DiCaprio forgets his lines was deliberately designed. We watch Rick Dalton struggling to find his character and forgetting his lines in front of Madrid, but in reality, Leo was struggling on set and unable to perform the scene. Dialogue errors were intentionally inserted for Leo’s character to regain his confidence and become Rick Dalton again.

In short, Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino’s film closest in spirit to Pulp Fiction. It’s as if the scene where Rick and Cliff drive to work is almost identical to the one with Travolta and Jackson. The director, who once again displays his love of cinema, shows the behind-the-scenes world of the film industry while also setting the foundation for the upcoming Tate murder. However, in the end, he signs an interesting job by rewriting the story from scratch. The film is a feast for the eyes and filled with Tarantino’s signature side stories. Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood is a celebration of the interesting dialogues and different characters’ adventures. I personally recommend this beauty to everyone as a vivid reminder of why I love cinema. Watch it and share it with others.

Cast & Crew

director: Quentin Tarantino

writers: Quentin Tarantino

starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Margaret Qualley, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino, Maya Hawke, Victoria Pedretti, Sydney Sweeney

USA | 2019 | 161 MINUTES |


Ukrainian Creative Director | Motion Picture Writer | Horror Freak

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