The Reel Review
Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt star as an actor in TV Westerns and his stunt double/best friend in 1969 Los Angeles, in writer/director Quentin Tarantino’s nostalgic, star-studded ode to the end of Hollywood’s Golden Era, punctuated by the arrival of Charles Manson and his deadly cult.
At two hours and 41 minutes, the meandering, largely plot-free story is about 30 minutes too long. Those familiar with Tarantino films will recognize his hallmarks of unconventional storytelling and revising historical facts. In this film, however, those hallmarks work in an interesting and very entertaining way.
The film’s set and costume design are truly phenomenal – you feel like you ARE in 1969 – the meticulous details most appreciated by those of us who lived during that timeline. Despite the lack of plot, the visual imagery is terrific and DiCaprio, Pitt and Margot Robbie (as the sweet, ebullient Sharon Tate) are a joy to watch. Tarantino’s love of Westerns and the hugely popular 1960s/70s TV series The F.B.I. is evident, as he uses each to tell the film’s two big scenes in the third act in a way that is suspenseful, surprising and brilliantly entertaining.
• The film’s title is an homage to one of Tarantino’s favorite filmmakers, Sergio Leone, who directed 1968’s Once Upon a Time in the West and 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America.
• In the third act, Sharon Tate and Jay Sebring are discussing a movie premiere down the street as they enter Hollywood’s El Coyote Mexican restaurant. That theater is the Eros, at the time an adult movie theater that is now The New Beverly, a repertory cinema owned by Quentin Tarantino.
• Sharon Tate’s sister Debra gave Margot Robbie some of Tate’s jewelry to wear in the film, after being so impressed with Robbie’s detailed research of Tate prior to meeting with her.