My favorite line from Quentin Tarantino’s landmark “Pulp Fiction” is John Travolta delivering to Eric Stoltz, “That’s a bold statement.”
Well, here’s another bold statement: Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood,” is his best, Brad Pitt’s best, and possibly even the year’s best. That Leonardo DiCaprio, as has-been western TV actor Rick Dalton, turns-in another masterful performance, goes without saying.
Dalton — a composite of late 1960s-era Burt Reynolds, Steve McQueen, and Clint Eastwood between their TV glory days and big-screen breakthroughs — spends his days agonizing over his foreboding irrelevance with long-time stunt double and bestie Cliff Booth (Pitt) in the hills of Benedict Canyon where “Rosemary’s Baby” director Roman Polanski (Rafał Zawierucha) and actress wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) have just rented the estate next door on Cielo Drive. That street is infamous to anyone who’s read Vincent Bugliosi’s chilling bestseller “Helter Skelter” documenting the sadistic Tate and LaBianca Murders orchestrated by nutjob Charles Manson.
Punctuated along the way with magical vignettes like Dalton as McQueen’s “The Great Escape” character Virgil Hilts (excuse me, “Captain” Hilts), Tarantino skillfully weaves multiple storylines into a tapestry that represents his unapologetically nostalgic view of Hollywood’s waning golden era. He thumbs his nose at today’s “woke culture” which, for instance, sight-unseen decried the film for Robbie having too few lines of dialog and too short a miniskirt.
But Tarantino reserves his most biting commentary for Manson’s cult, the women of which we’re introduced to as they rummage through a dumpster for grub like so many dung beetles. They are brainwashed counterculturists squatting on an abandoned ranch motivated to “to kill the people whose violent media content taught us to kill.”
Still, the director finds a place in “Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood” for even the most demented content, and adeptly manages to converge all of these threads towards an absurd climax if taken out of context; but in the moment – in the actual moment – is brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Rating: 4 Honks