August 1, 2019


Tarantino's Most Transgressive Film: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood celebrates values that have been repeatedly dismissed as dangerous and outdated. (Caitlin Flanagan, 8/01/19,  The Atlantic)

The movie is about Leonardo DiCaprio's character, Rick Dalton. But this is Brad Pitt's picture, and he carries it so easily that you don't realize it until the end. Rick is the washed-up star of a TV Western, whose career has wound down to guest-star appearances on other actors' Westerns (in the career-killing role of villain), heavy drinking, and indulging in fits of crying. He's weak. Pitt is Cliff Booth, Rick's stunt double, the one who does all the dangerous things and who--literally--takes no credit. Rick is so dependent on Cliff that he has hired him as driver and houseman, a role that should diminish Cliff in our eyes--1968's Kato Kaelin--but doesn't. Cliff is cool, funny, laconic, and tough. His competence and emotional reserve make us more aware of Rick's weakness. So it's a depth charge of misgiving to learn that he's not welcome on some television sets. He brings a bad energy, apparently, because many people believe he killed his wife. It's an anvil dropping: Is he a threat? Did he do it? In the one flashback, the truth is never revealed. For most of the picture, we know we can't trust him, and Pitt plays with us throughout, one moment charming, the next lost in something inward.

At the end of the movie, after he's redeemed tenfold, we realize who he was all along and why we couldn't help falling for him--a hero. Rick spent the movie trying to portray a hero; Cliff spent it being one--and like all heroes, he didn't spend any time bringing attention to the fact. The beautiful teenager who keeps trying to get him to give her a ride finally succeeds, but when she tries to seduce him, she doesn't have a chance. He spares her feelings by telling her that it's because she doesn't have a photo ID to prove she's over 18, but that's not the reason. He doesn't need "affirmative consent." He has a code: A man doesn't sleep with teenagers.

Cliff faces great danger at the Manson compound to make sure an elderly man of his slight acquaintance is safe. He doesn't start fights, but if he gets into one, he'll lay out the challenger. His dog loves him, he doesn't like to see a man crying, and he's got his passions under control. One afternoon, he climbs to Rick's roof to fix his television antenna, a potent symbol of Rick's failing television career, but also one more reminder of their relationship: Rick's things are broken, and Cliff repairs them. In the bright sun, he takes off his shirt (heaven help us) and then he hears music from the house next door. It's Tate, alone in her room. He glances over--does he see her? Maybe. But he's not a man who climbs on roofs for a peep show, and he turns back to his work. Most of all, he's loyal--even when Rick might not deserve that loyalty. In the end, he's Gary Cooper facing Frank Miller all by himself.

We can't have a movie like this. It affirms things the culture wants killed. If men aren't encouraged to cry in public, where will we end up? And the bottom line is the bottom line: Audiences don't want to see this kind of thing anymore. The audience wants the kind of movies the justice critics want. But the audience gave Once Upon a Time in Hollywood the biggest opening of Tarantino's career. The critics may not get it, but the public does. 

Posted by at August 1, 2019 5:35 PM