Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood’ Debuts at Cannes – The New York Times
When news broke that Quentin Tarantino would be taking on the Manson murders in his latest film, I admittedly winced. Tarantino’s love for over-the-top gore, for painting the screen red, seemed a bad fit with the ghastly 1969 murders of several people, including the actress Sharon Tate, then married to Roman Polanski. What was entirely unexpected was that “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival on Tuesday, would be such a moving film, at once a love letter — and a dream — of the Hollywood that was.
Well-received at its first press screening — no cheers but no jeers — the film revisits that crime through parallel, not-quite equal story lines: one involving Sharon (Margot Robbie) and the other centering on her next-door neighbor on Cielo Drive, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a television star. On the verge of permanent cancellation, Rick spends much of his time with Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his best pal and sometimes stunt double. There’s a whole lot of Rick and Cliff — a buddy movie in the making and mutual support system — whose antics, while shooting shows or just the breeze, give the movie a lot of its light, infectiously pop pleasure.
For a long stretch, Tarantino has fun with Rick and Cliff as they tool around Los Angeles in a cream-colored Cadillac, the radio blasting. Every so often, the friends hit a beloved landmark, like the Musso & Frank Grill on Hollywood Boulevard, where gimlets are served with sidecars and the waiters are as old as the movies themselves. At other times, Cliff drops Rick off at a studio, where the actor sweats, forgets his lines and sometimes proves he’s still got it. Cliff just gets up and goes, baby, driving around looking cooler than Steve McQueen (Damien Lewis), who briefly shows up at a party where Sharon and all the beautiful people frolic as the nights grow darker.
At last, Sharon’s story converges with that of Rick and Cliff. Until then it’s all easy and breezy, and not especially urgent, with lots of yammer, walls hung with exploitation-film posters and amusingly foregrounded shots of bare female feet. Then abruptly the mood and tone shift with a visit to Manson’s lair at the Spahn Movie Ranch, a bravura sequence with soaring crane shots, galloping horses and a chattering Lena Dunham (!) that fills the movie with dread. When Dakota Fanning bares her fangs and a squeaky rodent announces her name before it’s uttered, the film feels headed straight toward hell — and you’re not sure you want to ride along anymore.
Joan Didion famously wrote that “many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the ’60s ended abruptly on Aug. 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like brush fire through the community, and in a sense this is true.” I wonder what Tarantino might think of that sentiment; not much, I imagine, given that one day he would grow up, live in Los Angeles and chase a dream of Hollywood. He would have been 6 when Tate was murdered. The sympathy that he shows for her isn’t surprising, and neither is the adoration expressed toward Polanski, who’s largely a marginal character but also symbolically important.
When Rick enthuses about Polanski, it is hard not to hear Tarantino’s voice in the character’s excitement. For a long time, Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) seems like a near-cartoon of a familiar Hollywood success story: the wildly talented director with a beautiful actress-wife and a wide open future as well as a string of fabulous critical and box office successes. In some ways, Polanski reads like a tragic variation on Tarantino, a kind of horrific doppelgänger, which is one reason, I think, that this movie feels more personal than some of his recent endeavors. He loves this world so much, and that adoration suffuses every exchange, cinematic allusion and narrative turn.
In “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood,” Tarantino does a lot that’s familiar, including toggling between laughter and mayhem. The true jolt, though, is how melancholic the story finally plays; that is partly (rightly) because of the murders, which weigh heavily on the film in obvious ways. You’re always grimly aware that these aren’t just movie characters, but figures based on real people who belonged to the same ecosystem that Tarantino would eventually join. He knows exactly what lies ahead for the lost world — of Los Angeles but also of Hollywood — that he has so lovingly reimagined here, which is why this homage also has the ache of a requiem.
Let’s block ads! (Why?)