Arts & Leisure

Does “Once Upon A Time” tell the future?

BRAD PITT, Leo DiCaprio and Al Pacino in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

By JimTortolano

All evidence to the contrary, Quentin Tarantino is really a soft-hearted guy. In three of his most recent movies, he has indulged in good-conquers-evil revenge fantasies, and his latest – “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood – is no exception.

Of course, the path to righteousness winds through scads of profanity, extreme violence and other nastiness.

“Hollywood” is set in 1969 Los Angeles, just as the film industry and a lot of its patrons are losing their innocence, if they had any.  Leo DiCaprio is aging TV actor Rick Dalton, and Brad Pitt is Cliff Booth, his stunt man and best buddy. They are both starting to skid over the hill, and at the bottom is a group of back lot weirdo’s who later come to be known as the Charles Manson family.

In a side-plot, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) is glorying in her budding film career, and we see her smiling with glee while watching her watch a movie in which she co-stars. Tarantino’s screenplay doesn’t give her much to do except smile and look dazzling, which she does very well.

Most of the movie follows the ups and downs of the two buddies’ relationships and career prospects, both of which appear to be coming to a close. Perhaps coincidentally, the film is released at a time when Quentin is publically musing about winding up his directing career to get on with a more typical life as husband and perhaps father.

There is a lot to admire here. The period stuff is great, from the spot-on recreation of Hollywood – remember the Supply Sergeant? – with a KHJ AM “Boss Radio” soundtrack. The dialogue feels authentic and the humor biting.

Of course, Quentin has to give us a bit extra. The utility of flame-throwers is emphasized and much else – including Western dramas and TV commercials – is mocked. In some ways it feels like a live-action version of a Sixties issue of Mad Magazine, with a huge helping of profanity.

Another pleasure is the sprinkling of cameos. Kurt Russell, Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning and Bruce Dern are here and all charming in their own ways. Along with his creative skills, Tarantino is prized and admired for his attention to detail and his surprises.

And yet … something feels missing. QT’s films always have a subtext: “Inglorious Basterds” was about the subtleties of language as much as it was about killing Nazis. “Pulp Fiction” explored the theme of how the accidental interactions of strangers can shape our lives more than our careful planning.

Or, maybe he’s not going for subtlety, here at all. Maybe he’s just a 56-year-old guy tired of this phase of his life and wanting a cinematic metaphor for that. Maybe this is his idea of a storybook ending, a “once upon a time” starring the director and writer himself.

“Once Upon A Time In Hollywood” is rated R for violence, drug use, smoking, profanity, violence and crotch-biting dogs.

 

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