The year 1969 is a tumultuous time in America. The Vietnam War and anti-war protesting is at its height, the hippie generation has taken over San Francisco, a music festival is planned for summer in a small upstate New York town named Woodstock, Neil Armstrong is about to walk on the moon and Hollywood will soon be rocked by one of the most grisly murders of the time. But what if?
Cliff Scott (Brad Pitt), stunt man and driver for Rick Scott, (Leonardo DiCaprio) fading alcoholic TV star are making the rounds. A once prosperous young actor, since leaving the top TV hit “Bounty Law” to pursue a movie career, Rick’s career has taken a nose dive and he is now playing the “guest” villain on every weekly action or mystery show. Cliff, his friend and stuntman for over 20 years, has now become more of a handler; driving his yellow Cadillac because of Rick’s many DUI’s, maintaining his home in the Hollywood Hills and boosting is delicate self-esteem as he comes to grips with his failing career. Enter Marvin Schwarzs, (Al Pacino) slick Hollywood wheeler-dealer. He fawns over Rick then suggests he go to Italy and make a few “spaghetti westerns” for a famous Italian director and reboot his career. Rick at first resists.
But things are also changing in the Hollywood Hills. As Cliff is driving Rick from job to job, he begins to notice a group of hippie girls dumpster diving for food. One in particular catches his eye; they flirt at a stop light then again at a bus stop. Rick notices a loud smoke spewing van in his exclusive neighborhood. Actress Sharon Tate (Margo Robbie) and husband, director Roman Polanski, have moved next door to Rick buying the home once owned by Doris Day’s son, Terry Melcher. Rick believes that if only he could meet the “Rosemary’s Baby” director, his career could get back on track. Also interested in the house is a vagrant, Charlie Manson, who sold drugs to Terry and friend Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.
The groundwork is set for six months of chance meetings and bizarre circumstances that draw this diverse group of characters inextricably into a tale of fame, friendship, stardom, both new and fading, drugs, and murder against the backdrop of that memorable summer.
Many have said this could be the best of writer and director Quentin Tarantino’s work. The creative genius behind the “Kill Bill” movies and “Pulp Fiction” has woven reality and fiction together seamlessly. Actual news footage and TV and movie clips of the day are mixed effortlessly with Rick and Cliff’s story. While Pitt, DiCaprio and Robbie dominate the screen, the supporting actors are a who’s who of Hollywood. Dakota Fanning as Manson groupie Squeaky Fromme, Bruce Dern as Spahn Ranch owner George Spahn and Timothy Olyphant as young actor James Stacey. Don’t blink when Sharon and Roman go to the Playboy Mansion; watch for cameos from Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Rebecca Rittenhouse as Michelle Phillips and Dreama Walker as Connie Stevens.
It is however, Julia Butters, who plays a child star in a western Rick is filming that steals the moment, juxtaposing her youthful freshness with the alcoholic bitterness and frustration of DiCaprio’s character. Of course, what modern day western would be complete without the performance of Luke Perry, in his final role, prior to his passing from a stroke earlier this year, as the son of the local land baron confronting the villainous DiCaprio?
Be drawn in, fit the pieces together as the story unfolds and be amazed as the reality and fantasy come together. After all, who knows what might happen “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”?
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use and sexual references. n