Once Upon a Time in Hollywood – Tarantino’s Opus Love Story to 1969 Hollywood – New Edit

Revisionist or parallel history productions are fascinating. Decades ago my kids were exposed to Lion King 1½ (Pumbaa and Timon’s story up front, with Simba’s story in the distance). More recently, I have been enamored of The Man in the High Castle (posing the question of what early 1960s America would be like if the USA lost World War 2).

Now comes Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, and he reimagines the events leading up to the fateful night of the Manson murders in 1969 Hollywood.

Told from the perspective of Sharon Tate’s neighbors, the film builds slowly. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Rick Dalton, an actor who hit his stride as a TV cowboy a decade earlier, and is now grappling with a series of star turns on shows like “The FBI.” His stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is mostly Dalton’s driver and handyman. The pair are very comfortable with each other, bantering about the foibles of the business.

Tarantino luxuriates in recreating the nuances of 1969. His affinity for precise musical selections continues unabated, who knew he was such a fan of Paul Revere and The Raiders? But the real fun is with the plethora of advertisements Tarantino has brought back to life. Not only billboards, bus stop benches and store signs, but a huge swath of radio spots and TV ads. It is almost as if Tarantino wants to remind us of the benefit of paying for commercial free films in theatres.

The story flips back and forth between Dalton and his neighbors: Tate twisting by the pool at the Playboy Mansion and Dalton trying to practice his lines (with the help of a groovy little reel to reel tape recorder).

Tarantino as always casts his films with a plethora of characters, including one of his recurrent favorites Kurt Russell. Margot Robbie is luminescent as Tate, and premium cable stars Damian (Billions, Homeland) Lewis and Timothy (Deadwood) Olyphant  are notable as well. In a nod to the era when they first rose to prominence, veterans Al Pacino and Bruce Dern are also well positioned.

The seemingly lugubrious pace quickens as the story moves to the night of August 8. Tarantino relishes as usual in his lightning quick fight scenes, overlaid with improbable humor.

The original film clocks in at two hours and forty minutes. The reissue has about four new scenes and adds another ten minutes. If you are a fan, you will probably not mind the running time. If you are too young to remember the Manson murders, you may wonder what the fuss is about.



Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.