This new Quentin Tarantino masterpiece shines because of its talented cast, nostalgic premise and the personal knowledge of the filmmaker.
The buzz is confirmed. Quentin Tarantino's "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" is a masterpiece. From its opening shot to the closing scene, the film crackles like an egg dropped into a Hades hot skillet.
Tarantino has requested that critics avoid spoilers in order to enjoy the film in its pure form. So no spoilers here. The story spans a six-month time frame between Feb. 8 and Aug. 8, 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a fading TV Westerns star and his buddy/stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), are experiencing the decline of Hollywood's Golden Age firsthand. Rick is hard-hitting the bottle, while Cliff's trying to cop some gigs. By the way, Rick lives next door to Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate (a ravishing Margot Robbie).
As Rick is attempting to keep his slipping status as a star, Cliff cruises around town in Rick's white Coupe de Ville. When he picks up a young hitchhiker (Margaret Qualley), she insists that he take her to Spahn Ranch, where she lives with others, including a guy named Charlie Manson. Paths begin to cross as multiple stories play out — some hilarious and others anything but.
As always, Tarantino is meticulously dedicated to detail. Having grown up in Hollywood, he knew the turf at that time and recreates it with such acuity you wish the camera wouldn't move, at times. Cuts from old TV shows, films and record albums sharpen our senses as to how it felt back in an era that was about to become forever altered. "Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood is an ode to what Tarantino has loved most in his lifetime: moviemaking.
The performances are superb from a long list of accomplished actors, including Al Pacino, Bruce Dern, Damian Lewis (as Steve McQueen), Mike Moh (as Bruce Lee), Kurt Russell, Luke Perry (in his last role), Dakota Fanning (as Squeaky Fromme) and Emile Hirsch. Oh, and Brandy, the pitbull who won the Palm Dog Award at Cannes for Best Performance by a Canine this year.
But "the greatest casting coup of the century" (in Tarantino's own words) was landing DiCaprio and Pitt to helm this fantastic flick. Their chemistry is hot and their presence cool. The mere flicking of a Zippo (DiCaprio) and popping a Lifesaver from the roll (Pitt) are swoon-worthy. Not to mention when Pitt removes his shirt.
"Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood" ends on Aug. 8, 1969. It's an "if only" conclusion. And Brandy steals the scene, as well she should have.