MOVIE REVIEW: Fabulously flawed love letter to old Hollywood
ONCE UPON A TIME … IN HOLLYWOOD
Three and a half stars
Director Quentin Tarantino
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie
Running time 161 minutes
Verdict A deliciously pulpy, fan-boy fairytale about cowboys of all kinds
A Tarantino movie without fetishised violence?
That was never going to happen, but the attention-grabbing insider-outsider almost makes it through his ode to the Golden Age of Hollywood before resorting to type.
And there are moments of surprising subtlety, even tenderness, in this lovingly-realised and richly-detailed piece of cinematic nostalgia.
The most touching scene in the entire film is the one in which Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), looking effortlessly gorgeous in a white miniskirt, talks her way into a public screening of her latest movie (The Wrecking Crew) on impulse.
Shoes off, the beautiful starlet settles back in her seat, taking unselfconscious delight in seeing herself up there on the big screen, anticipating the physical comedy, relishing the audience's response.
Who knew Tarantino was capable of such softness and introspection?
His sweet stickybeak is all the more affecting given what we know about Tate's impending fate.
Blending a fictional storyline - about a 60s screen cowboy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his loyal stuntman (Brad Pitt) - with real events, Once Upon A Time … In Hollywood takes place in the months leading up to Tate's murder, two weeks before she was due to give birth, by members of the Manson family.
In Tarantino's fictional version of events, Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) lives next door to the Benedict Canyon house Tate shares with husband Roman Polanski.
Where she is part of the in-crowd, his star has already begun to fade.
Reduced to playing villains in other actor's TV shows, Dalton is feeding his self-pity on frozen margaritas.
There's cracker of an exchange, on a studio backlot, between the phlegmy, bloated actor and his precocious, eight-year-old co-star (Julia Butters).
And that's followed by a powerful scene, back in the trailer, in which Dalton berates himself for fluffing his lines - returning to the set to deliver a masterclass in acting.
Each of the key characters gets their "moment".
Cliff Booth (Pitt) has at least three, although being a stuntman, his are less introspective.
There's a very funny showdown between the handsome himbo (there are shades of Pitt's breakout Thelma and Louise character in this performance) and Bruce Lee (Mike Moh).
And a chilling encounter with Manson's brainwashed flower children at the rundown Spahn Movie Ranch - dressed to resemble a ghost town - which is grounded by a very human exchange between Booth and the bedridden owner, George Spahn (Bruce Dern).
Pitt also delivers what is arguably the big screen's best-ever representation of a trip after his character decides to smoke an acid-laced cigarette just before the deranged Manson family members drive up in a wheezing rust bucket.
Passionately retro, jam-packed with intertextual references and performed by pros - as a theatrical experience, Once Upon A Time ... in Hollywood has much to recommend it.
As a piece of cinema, however, this sprawling love letter to a bygone era amounts to somehow less than the sum of its parts.
In-jokes are fun, but they don't lend much emotional depth. And Tarantino toys with the tension of some of his key sequences for so long, there's a danger his audience will nod off while they are waiting.