Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: Exploring Tarantino’s return

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Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio team up in 1960s Hollywood for Quentin Tarantino’s latest film

Lights, camera, action! The first reviews are in for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the latest movie from director Quentin Tarantino, following its premiere at the Cannes Film Festival yesterday.

The filmmaker’s ninth effort, a typically flamboyant take on 1969 Tinseltown prior to the Manson murders, has so far received glowing praise from critics, with The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw deeming it “entirely outrageous, disorientating, irresponsible, and also brilliant“.

It has also drawn comparisons to Tarantino’s 90s pop culture landmark Pulp Fiction, 25 years on from its release at the festival.

Here are six talking points from the reviews and its latest trailer, dropped amid the glitz and glamour of the film’s debut screening.

Pitt and DiCaprio are the new Redford and Newman

The pairing of two of Hollywood’s most high-profile leading men appears to be an inspired partnership.

Rick Dalton, played by DiCaprio, is a failing cowboy actor and alcoholic, whose best friend, Cliff Boon – a long-time stunt double – is brought to life by Brad Pitt.

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DiCaprio and Pitt are described as a duo with “pleasurable chemistry”

Together the pair are said to deliver “killer” performances, “dripping with self irony and pleasurable chemistry” according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“It’s hard not to think back to the energy of the previous best pairing in a Tarantino film, John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction,” added Time Out.

Robert Redford and Paul Newman made two classic films together, The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, so should we expect a remake of either in the pipeline?

Hollywood plays itself on screen

As a “spectacularly detailed nostalgic splatter collage of a film” paying homage to the lost era of Hollywood, a number of famed movie industry names are dramatised on the silver screen.

Rafal Zawierucha plays director Roman Polanski, while Margot Robbie dominates as his wife Sharon Tate, in the months prior to her tragic murder by the Manson Family.

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Margot Robbie posing as Sharon Tate, pictured right in 1967

Other notable portrayals include:

  • Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis)
  • Burt Reynolds (the inspiration for DiCaprio’s fictional character Dalton, according to Variety)
  • Charles Manson (James Marsden and Damon Herriman)
  • A Manson Family member (Lena Dunham)
  • Bruce Lee (Mike Moh)
  • Mama Cass (Rachel Redleaf)
  • Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a Manson disciple who later tried to assassinate US President Gerald Ford (Dakota Fanning)

The Manson murders are only part of the story

Prior to the film’s release, speculation mounted that the film would revolve around the murderous impact of cult leader Charles Manson upon Hollywood.

In 1969, his followers, known as the Manson Family, killed nine people, including the heavily pregnant Tate, while Polanski was filming abroad.

One of Manson’s young followers, Susan Atkins, stabbed the actress to death and scrawled “PIG” on the home’s front door with her blood.

The murders sent shock waves through the US film industry and has traditionally been credited with bringing a bloody end to the 60s counterculture free love generation.

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American actress Tate was eight and a half months pregnant when she was murdered

It’s a narrative that Once Upon a Time rejects with an “outrageous riposte” says The Evening Standard. Instead, it begins six months prior to the murders, exploring “Tinseltown in that brief moment after the glitter wore off but before the tarnish set in,” says Sight and Sound.

This is not to say Manson does not loom heavily. One of his songs features in the soundtrack, while the murders act as a “shocking” curtain-closer states The Telegraph. However, the bloodshed is certainly not the main focus.

The exact way it is climactically played out on screen remains a mystery (Tarantino sent a pleading letter to critics asking them not to reveal his approach), but IndieWire’s write-up suggests a delicate handling of the tragedy: “There’s even a late monologue from one of the Manson killers about the fetishisation of murder and violence in entertainment,” it reads ,”that registers as Tarantino reducing his most conservative critics to the worst possible caricatures.”

DiCaprio sets Nazis on fire

The trailer shows DiCaprio’s character Dalton flaming Nazis on set during a flashback to his apparent glory days.

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DiCaprio plays an actor who previously took on some surreal roles

It’s a tongue-in-cheek throwback to his 2009 film Inglorious Basterds, and typical of Tarantino’s fondness for over-dramatic violence.

Diversity still in question

At the time of the film’s initial casting announcement, eyebrows were raised about the all-white lead cast roster.

Granted, the addition of Moh as Lee has added a brief flash of racial diversity since then, but the trailer remains overwhelmingly white.

This almost literal whitewashing has sparked lively debate on social media, particularly given Tarantino’s previous support for black talent in the 90s, long before #OscarsSoWhite.

The director has also faced criticism for his liberal use of the N word in past scripts, but has been defended by long-time acting partners – including Samuel L Jackson and Jamie Foxx – as simply reflecting the realistic speech patterns of the characters in question.

Feet remain Tarantino’s fascination

Hawk-eyed followers of Tarantino’s work over the past three decades have recognised feet feature prominently in his films.

Think of The Bride’s “Wiggle your big toe” scene in Kill Bill or the aforementioned Inglorious Basterds’ Hans Landa verifying a shoe found at the scene of a shootout was that of actress Bridget von Hammersmark – the camera lingering lovingly on her bare foot.

An apparent foot fetish? An in-joke? The exact on-screen reason remains unclear.

But one thing’s for sure, there are plenty of bare feet in Once Upon a Time.

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Feet even appear in the latest trailer for the film, set for a UK release in August

“And in case you’d forgotten Tarantino’s weird thing about women’s feet, this movie is here to remind us in a big way,” warns The Hollywood Reporter.

Or, as Sight and Sound concluded, it’s Tarantino’s “barefoot eulogy” to the industry he adores.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is set to be released in the UK on August 15, 2019.

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