Cast of Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood

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SPOILERS: A Crazy Twist Makes 'Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood' a Tarantino Classic

Never let history get in the way of a good movie...

July 29, 2019

By Jack Haley

This article contains spoilers for Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is a beautifully shot and nostalgic reminder of the lawlessness that at times gripped Hollywood in the 60s and 70s. The Americana seeps through the screen as big, boxy cars rumble their way down through the Hollywood Canyon and on to Sunset Boulevard, bathed in neon lights as movie stars try their best to enjoy the good life.

The film set in 1969 follows actor Rick Dalton, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his stuntman Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. Dalton, a cowboy-portraying star is becoming a has-been; and Booth must deal with it as his career goes where Dalton’s does. 


Dalton lives right next to Roman Polanski and his wife, Sharon Tate who have just moved into the neighborhood. This excites Dalton who thinks just one run-in with the up and coming director and he could be set for the rest of his career. All he needed to do was wait on that pool party invitation. 

Tarantino sprinkles lots of key pieces of the plot throughout the movie, seemingly as though to mislead the audience from the twist ending. One major piece of plot that seems to be nothing more than a red herring is that Booth killed his wife. A flashback shows Booth being berated by his wife while he holds a speargun. It’s left up to the imagination of the audience to deduce what Booth did with it.

Margot Robbie and Sharon Tate
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Tarantino also shows the audience an out-on-the-town excursion for Tate (played by Margot Robbie). It doesn’t seem to provide a whole lot to the plot of the movie, besides actually introducing her as Tate. A quick trip to watch her own movie, picking up a book for Polanski and the scene is over. It seems like an odd scene for a movie that so critically hinges on her, as the audience will come to find out. 

In one of the very early scenes in the movie, we see a group of young hippies rummaging through the garbage, and taking whatever they can salvage with them. Booth again and again throughout the movie sees the same girl that was with them attempting to hitchhike. Finally, he gives in a allows Pussycat to hop in Rick’s car which he is borrowing. 

After driving her to an abandoned ranch, Cliff starts to get a bit uneasy about who he had just driven. With dirty, young people living in poor conditions Pussycat keeps saying she wished “Charlie” were around so they could meet. For more perceptive viewers, this is a major breakthrough moment for what awaits at the end of the movie. The mention of Tate and someone Charlie in the same sentence surely shivers anyone who is aware of Tate’s horrific and untimely demise at the hands of those in the Manson family. 

Six months later in the movie, after Dalton has accepted his downturn and played the leading man in four Spaghetti Westerns, he and Booth return to Hollywood, with Dalton’s new Italian wife in tow. That night Dalton and Booth get sufficiently plastered to celebrate a job well done, and the end of their professional relationship, as Dalton has to dump Booth to save money. 

The pair return back to Dalton’s home on Cielo Drive and continue to indulge in debauchery. Booth goes to walk his pit bull for a walk while smoking an acid-dipped cigarette we see him leave at Dalton’s house before they depart for Italy. Dalton continues to drink and is disturbed by a loud car that sits idle outside their house.

The car is occupied by four young hippies, some of which Booth had met earlier at the ranch. It now becomes clear that the four are there to fulfill the murders that happened in real life. However Dalton confronts the four, screaming to get off his road thinking they have gone up there to do drugs. The group decides instead to focus their attack on Dalton’s house instead of the Polanski residence. 

A gruesome scene unfolds with face bashing, dog biting and, yes, a flamethrower as Dalton and Booth fend off the invaders. The Tate murders now become fiction in the movie, and Dalton gets his invite after explaining what happened to the neighbors. 

Though with about 45 minutes left in the movie a keen watcher could deduce where the movie was headed, the surprise should be how it ended, not that Tate became the centerpiece. Tarintino, who was just six years old at the time of the Tate murders, has a knack for rewriting history more idealistically in his movies. 

A perfect example is Inglourious Basterds. Hitler gets a much less understated death in the Tarintento fantasy with a fiery movie theater shootout. The same can be said about Django Unchained which meet some criticism for its historical inaccuracies. However, Tarantino has always put a good story in front of the sometimes mundane truth.

Tarantino shows again in this movie why his stories are so compelling. Viewers feel immersed in the tale as ambient noise flows through the movie, making it feel like you are on set with Dalton or riding shotgun with Booth. The movie is heavy with close shots to make it feel like being face to face with the actors.

Small pieces are woven together beautifully, while also allowing some loose ends to stay flapping in the wind to create a story that is intricate while viewing yet unambiguous and straightforward in retrospect.  

The movie in a much larger sense is about having to accept reality. Both Dalton and Booth are faced with the harsh realities about what they are perceived as in the movie industry. For Dalton, he’s a washed-up has-been, and he fights tooth and nail to avoid that. Booth must realize that he is dependant on Dalton’s success while fending off the reality that he killed his wife, hurting his working reputation.