This is not a review, simply because it’s impossible to review a Tarantino movie in the conventional sense of the term, no matter what the critics might tell you and then there’s also the conflict of interest factor, me being a self-confessed fan that is. Tarantino indulges, like no other filmmaker but he is celebrated world over like no other too. You have to be a movie buff to appreciate the kind of cinema that Tarantino makes, I feel because this is a guy who started making movies out of pure love for the medium and draws his obsessions and inspirations from all kinds of Cinema, from what’s branded B- Grade to relatively unknown Italian action movies to forgotten Hong Kong flicks from yesteryear, to speak of a few. When you see an actor in a Tarantino movie, you know that he wrote the character with that particular actor on his mind and that the actor was part of some little known TV show or a movie with a cult following from yesteryear that Tarantino grew up watching. Everything has a reason and a reference in a Tarantino movie which you could almost always trace back to some other movie or a show. Legends and lores are galore amongst fans about Tarantino’s uncredited works from his days as a writer and even after his turn as a writer-director. The “Silver Surfer” bit from Tony Scott’s Crimson Tide is what comes to my mind first when I think about one such tale. Pulp Fiction remains the movie that defines him as a filmmaker the most and that’s where you start if you’re discovering Tarantino just now, if you ask me. You will either end up a fan or dismiss him entirely, this, you can be absolutely sure of.
In his 9th film, Tarantino indulges like never before. Considering the fact that the premise of the film is all about what Tarantino loves the most, movies, actors and Hollywood, he hasn’t digressed much. Yes, he pays ode to himself in more scenes than one but in many ways this is a new Tarantino too. Set in the fag end of the sixties, 1969 to be precise, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is primarily a tribute from Tarantino to Sharon Tate, who was brutally murdered by members of the Manson family on the fateful night of August 9th, 1969 in her home, in cold blood. Tarantino uses two characters to tell this story, an actor who is at a crossroads in his career played by Leonardo DiCaprio and his stuntman, played by Brad Pitt. They’re to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood what C-3PO and R2D2 were to Star Wars. They have absolutely nothing to do with the central plot but are the devices through which the story develops rather flourishes here. DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton is Tarantino’s favorite toy in this film. An actor at a crossroads in his career, trying to reinventing himself to stay relevant and not forgotten, Dalton gets most of Tarantino’s attention in the film. Dalton shoots for spaghetti westerns playing the bad guy and Tarantino uses it as an excuse to squeeze in a mini western right in the middle. Tarantino experiments with just the camera in the age of CGI and the shots where the camera tracks and pans during takes and retakes in the film inside this film are displays pure of craftsmanship. Cliff Booth played by Brad Pitt on the other hand is the quintessential embodiment of “Amercian Cool”. He is unperturbed by any situation or intimidated by any individual. He comes with a mythical backstory too, like most Tarantino heroes and is an enigma. Then there is Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate and I’m having a hard time figuring out who Tarantino’s new muse is, Robbie or the late Tate. Unlike the fictional Dalton who is literally riding into the sun on screen as far as his career is concerned , Tate whose life ended tragically and mindlessly is discovering fame and elusive success. This has to be the most delicate and touching portrayal of a character, rather a person in any Tarantino movie to date. A slew of other actors too make an appearance in roles that would be otherwise reserved for extras only because it’s again, a film by Tarantino.
Tarantino’s adoration for Sharon Tate as an actress and a person is more than evident from the way he has written and portrayed the character. Tarantino loves performers the most, and one gets an impression that he has the utmost respect for Sharon Tate the actor and he takes the effort to vouch for it before his audience five decades after her passing. The only reason Tarantino made this movie was to travel back in time and put the Manson Family on trial for their horrific act, I feel. Cliff Booth ultimately turns out to be the personification of the rage that Tarantino harbors for the members of the Mansion Family for what they did to Tate. Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a true artist’s reaction to a thoughtless act which brought an end to the life of another artist with stars in her eyes, literally. This is revenge, and Tarantino metes it out like he knows best too. Then there’s the controversial Bruce Lee bit, surprising too because Tarantino obviously reveres Bruce Lee and paid him tributes in his Kill Bill movies in the past. The argument that Bruce had to take a beating to establish Booth’s physicality doesn’t hold water for me because that doesn’t quite explain the almost satirical take on the martial arts legend considering Tarantino’s history of fascination with the legacy of Lee. Personally I feel that it’s Tarantino in an introspective mood, demystifying his own personal heroes, and I wonder if the Weinstein fallout has anything to do with it.