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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood - Film Review

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by Nicholas Gordon (subscribe)
Freelance writer based in Sydney.
Published August 14th 2019
Vintage Tarantino
Quentin Tarantino's much anticipated new film is a dreamy love letter. The recipients of the director's adoration are the late 1960s - especially the films, television shows, pop music and even the cheesy radio advertisements that the decade produced. And of course, the story is set against the sun-soaked boulevards of Hollywood, the factory where all those celluloid dreams were created. But this is very much a Tarantino film, so expect some raucous, sickening violence, as well as plenty of laughs.

The film's focus is Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a slightly dopey leading man who lives in the Hollywood Hills and who has enjoyed moderate career success in the past as the star of popular television Western. Approaching over-the-hill status when we meet him and increasingly keen on his drink, Rick lives alone, his only friend being his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Cliff also serves as Rick's driver, personal assistant and career coach. The duo is often found speeding around Hollywood together as Rick manages his career.

Rick's problem is that his career lacks direction: at the moment he gets one-off jobs playing villains in television series. The heavy drinking, his naivety towards the film industry and the ageing process don't help him score the big roles. But if Rick's career is precarious, Cliff's is virtually non-existent. He lives in a trailer, when he works as a stunt double he usually screws up, and so ultimately he's a semi-employed chauffeur for Rick.

So Rick and Cliff's Hollywood dream, if not dead, is fading fast. Rick's next-door neighbours represent a new and more successful Hollywood story: director Roman Polanski and his actress girlfriend Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie) have moved in.

It's one of a number of paths Tarantino takes us down, sort of - in real life Tate was sickeningly murdered in her home by Charles Manson and his groupies. But historical accuracy is not Tarantino's bailiwick here. Instead, we get an imagined re-ordering of events, a magical dream cooked up to get us to the conclusion.

And it does take a while to get there. It's a long film, crammed with many sidebars. Some of these are more vibrant than others: a scene in which Tate attends a screening of her own movie, her bare feet propped up on the seat in front of her is bizarrely compelling. Other scenes, including long pieces when Rick is filming one of his Westerns and we watch along as if watching the show, seem to drag on needlessly, the kitschy dialogue and bad acting wearing out its ability to provoke a laugh.

But when a director and an all-star cast are having this much fun it's hard not to go along. The film is still a breezy and fun ride through Hollywood, a place where around every corner there's the promise of bright lights.

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Why? For Rick Dalton
When: In cinemas August 15
Where: Cinemas nationally
Cost: Varies
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