ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD – Review by Susan Granger

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Quentin Tarantino delves into bittersweet revisionist history in this fractured fable, revisiting six months in 1969.

Once a top TV Western star, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is watching his once-promising career decline to the point where he’s now ‘guest-starring’ as the villain whom the hero beats up.

Dalton’s best friend is his stunt double/driver, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who – according to rumor – killed his wife and has been blackballed in the industry.

Dalton owns a house on Cielo Drive in posh Benedict Canyon, next to director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and his pregnant wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), while Booth lives with his Rottweiler in a beat-up trailer behind the Van Nuys Drive-In.

In Hollywood’s Golden Era, one’s status in the ecosystem was obvious.

With cinematographer Robert Richardson shooting in 35mm and Barbara Ling’s impeccable production design, Tarantino not only recreates the grimy, gritty physicality of old movies but also its culture, satirically interweaving the relationship of these fictional characters with real ones, like Bruce Lee (Mike Moh), Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis) and hair stylist Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch).

So how do Charles Manson and his feral followers fit it? Their murder plan originally targeted record producer Terry Melcher (Doris Day’s son), whom Manson blamed for his singer/songwriter failure. It’s Terry’s house that Polanski and Tate are renting. So Tarantino cleverly twists, turns and manipulates history to serve this story.

In a powerhouse performance, Leonardo DiCaprio nails alcoholic, insecure Dalton, while Brad Pitt is charismatic as bronzed, laconic Booth. Incandescent Margot Robbie is mini-skirted sweet. Kurt Russell narrates and Bruce Dern does a cameo originally intended for Burt Reynolds. Plus there’s Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham and Margaret Qualley.

FYI: The Dalton/Booth relationship was probably inspired by Burt Reynolds’ friendship with stuntman-turned-writer/director Hal Needham.

Personal note: a poignant scene between Dalton and a precocious child actress (Julia Butters) evokes memories of my dad’s (director S. Sylvan Simon) movie Bad Bascomb (1946), pairing Wallace Berry with Margaret O’Brien.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood” is an evocative 8, elegantly eviscerating the soft, sleazy underbelly of Tinseltown.

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.