Once upon A Time In Hollywood: The Wylde Review

The ninth film from Quentin Tarantino is his best since Pulp Fiction…

Review by Alexandra Griffin


Once Upon a time in Hollywood, the ninth film from provocative director Quentin Tarantino, is an ingenious kaleidoscope of nostalgia, pop culture, hilarity and horror. The title in itself suggests fairy-tale-esque territory and the film successfully – in fact effortlessly – fuses fact and fiction to construct something strikingly provocative.


The action plays out against the heady backdrop of 1969 Los Angeles. The sun-soaked boulevards, frozen margaritas and sheer Hollywood glitz (think midnight parties at the Playboy Mansion) serve to transport us, absolutely, into this dazzling place at this notorious moment in history. Tarantino has always been a master of cleverly weaving elements of pop culture into his story to either enhance epic set pieces (Inglorious Basterds) or simply to nail the mood (Jackie Brown). There is just as much attention to detail here, as the director creates an homage to Sixties LA and to what was possibly the last golden age of counterculture. Tarantino stated that he only used tracks that were found on the 1969 setlist of KHJ radio – LA’s coolest station. The soundtrack, from the Stones and Neil Diamond to Deep Purple and, of course, some California Dreamin’ is perfect, and credit should be given to Mary Ramos, the film’s music supervisor, for understanding how effective music is in driving those pivotal scenes.   


Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a down-on-his-luck TV cowboy actor whose career is in rapid decline, following the cancellation of his show Bounty Law. Dalton’s agent – an impeccable cameo from Al Pacino – suggests he try his luck in Italy, working for the “second best director of spaghetti westerns”. Dalton understandably takes this as further confirmation that Hollywood considers him past his best and takes a job as the villain on an American western in the hope of reviving his fledging career. Dalton is accompanied everywhere by Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), his stunt double, driver and loyal buddy who also may or may not have killed his wife. 


DiCaprio, who seems to get better with each film he does, is perfect as the frustratedly self-centred, self-pitying Dalton. He takes himself so seriously that his moments of rage provide hilarious viewing. The best example being  when he confronts some Manson cult followers in a dressing gown, drinking a margarita from a blender yelling at the “stupid hippies” to get off the private road. Pitt is equally as superb as Booth whose aloofness and laid back countenance allow for him to be simultaneously funny and lethal. 


Sharon Tate – the lovely princess of this tale – is respectably played by Margot Robbie, who glows with all the natural normalcy of a young woman embarking on her life. Similarly, Polanski and Tate, who reside next door to Dalton on the now-infamous Cielo Drive are portrayed with a mythic, ethereal awe as Dalton imagines connecting with them to turn his fortunes around. 


Elsewhere, in a set piece that plays out like a scene from a western itself, Booth gives a lift to a hitchhiking hippy girl and ends up at Spahn Ranch – the decommissioned film set where the Manson cult resided in the run up to the Tate/LaBianca killings. The scene is eerily sinister, with Dakota Fanning providing a suitably creepy turn as a Manson devotee called Squeaky. 


Other flawless cameos come in the form of Damien Lewis as Steve McQueen and Mike Moh providing comic relief in the form of Bruce Lee – with a performance that has certainly raised some eyebrows. 

The truly remarkable part of this film however, is its end sequence. As events move towards that shockingly gruesome night on August 9th 1969, Tarantino gives us something which, without giving the game away is sheer stunningly genius. Its every bit as disorientatingly brilliant as Pulp Fiction and more outrageous because of the subject. Its provocatively brilliant.