Movie Review – Once upon a time in Hollywood

Had a girls’ day out and got to watch “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”.
It is a movie that portrays the ethos of the 1960s Tinseltown in the director’s quintessential style, with the Manson family used as an effective anchor to bring in the sinister element.
It entertains while paying homage to late 1960s Hollywood with glimpses of places, mentions of events and with characters, some real and well known while others are fictional. The background score, soundtrack are designed to induce nostalgia.
The movie unveils the storyline and the characters via interactions with the two main protagonists. An actor in the twilight years of his career and his stuntsman double who also happens to be his driver and faithful man Friday. They share a friendly camaraderie and the stuntsman’s relationship with the actor is narrated as being “more than a brother less than a wife.”
While the dialogues are filled with swear words and also slangs from that era, the main character sketches imbibe vulnerability, quirkiness and cheerful spirit and the flow of the movie is laced with humour, charm, drama, violence, drugs, cigarettes, alchohol abuse, unease and fear. Another aspect that deserves mention is the focus on boots and bare feet that seems to be a recurring theme throughout the movie. It ranges from sophisticated and stylish shots of boots clad feet to bare dirty feet carelessly and unnaturally flung over the car dashboard and protruding grotesquely towards the viewers.
The flamethrower antic seemed to allude to Elon Musk’s flamethrower stint.
It was not just the seasoned actors who played their roles to perfection as can be expected, but the rest of the star cast performed with a great panache too. This along with the other elements of storytelling, sets, costumes, etc, made it a very well-crafted stylish thriller drama.
The child actress excels in her short but memorable role and deserves special mention.
Though the role of Margot Robbie playing Sharon Tate seems to be subtle, perky and not very impactful in a watered down way, it is indeed her very presence in the movie that propels it forward with sinister anticipation of the depiction of the shockwave invoking horrific true event. This seems to cloud the viewers’ ability to sit back and experience Quentin Tarantino’s trademark storytelling without being weighed down by the dread of what you expect will come to pass in the director’s gory style.
The visual countdown implied with a date time display on the screen and a TV dialogue jauntily announcing “what you have been waiting for” reinforces the feeling of impending terror, setting the viewers’ nerves on edge as the movie progresses.
While the very first Broadway musical like introduction to the hippie members of the Manson family followed by a lead character’s eye contact with a member has a fresh and lighthearted feel to it, every subsequent brush with the clan members slowly builds up the intensity of foreboding menace and unease with an add-on zombie-like effect. This triggering of understated fear seems cleverly and deliberately juxtaposed against the colorful and animated tone of the movie.

As a thrilling concoction of most of those elements that one has come to expect in Quentin Tarantino movies, it did not disappoint, except for a few things about the movie that rankled and had to be expressed. There seemed to be a disturbingly sympathetic vein towards a rumoured wife killer. Given that the same person seems to play a major role in saving the day, it hinted at some ambiguous message that eluded me.
Another grouse is the scene where Bruce Lee is pitched against the stuntsman and the latter overpowers the former in fighting prowess and speech. This scene could have been entirely avoided. It appeared to carry racial connotations apart from a marked attempt to mock the Hollywood martial arts legend of Asian origin.
There appeared to be some editing gaps, which could be due to censor board cuts.
Absence of knowledge of the Sharon Tate incident could impact how the viewer might perceive the movie.

Knowing this is the director’s ninth movie and considering he has said he would retire post his tenth movie, I hope that is indeed not the case and that he continues to make more. Have enjoyed watching all his movies. His stylishly quirky storytelling makes him one of a kind director. I find it amazing how he gets the right star cast, and modulates their acting to match the tone of the storytelling. So while the actors might not be giving their personal best…their acting seems just right for the movie. My thoughts.

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