Characters carrying a movie in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood


Quentin Tarantino’s ninth film, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is no doubt a good movie. Fantastic cinematography, a cast full of Hollywood’s best and somehow an almost non-existent plot.

Tarantino flicks are if nothing else, incredibly interesting. They are full of breathtaking stories that are so much larger than life they can only take place in movies. A woman on a bloodthirsty rampage to avenge herself, an elite team of Nazi killers, two hit men on the run from their insane boss are all some of the most nail-biting plots to be in film, yet “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” only shows two struggling actors getting small roles.

Rather than rely on a narrative, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” keeps you watching for the amazing acting and complex characters.  Rick Dalton (played by DiCaprio) is an actor who is being slowly forgotten by time. Once a popular television cowboy, Dalton is forced to be the bad guy on any show that will take him and he isn’t shy to admit he’s failing. One of the first scenes is Dalton swallowing his grief at a bar and then sobbing when a director called him a “has been.” This emotional turmoil comes across so real on film that it feels like a documentary.

Dalton is quick to complain to his stunt double turned driver, Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt). Booth drives Dalton everywhere because Dalton can no longer legally drive. We immediately learn what Makes Dalton tick in the second scene in the movie but Booth is more of a slow burn. He’s quiet and more reserved than his counterpoint. He’s even more of a “has been” than Dalton but he seems okay with it. Booth acts like a chore-boy and it’s during said chores we start to unravel his violent past.

During a flashback, it’s revealed that studios are reluctant to hire Booth because he allegedly killed his wife. It’s completely up to audience interpretation whether he did or not but with a new mar on his otherwise boring character, Booth becomes as interesting as the emotional Dalton.

In the same flashback, Booth is shown picking up legendary actor and martial artist, Bruce Lee, and throwing him into a car like he weighed nothing during a fight. It’s humiliating for Lee and Booth takes great pleasure in that. The fact that Booth looks so fondly on the time where he destroyed a man in combat adds to the suspicion that maybe he does have a blood lust.

The movie continues along at a decent enough pace until Dalton lands a big role. While being on set he continues to drink and brings himself to tears when describing the story of a young cowboy who is getting too old and losing his purpose. During filming, he slurs his lines and complains when he doesn’t get his scene right. He throws a tantrum in his trailer, mocking himself and throwing everything he can get his hands on. He swears off alcoholism before taking a swig from his flask and then throwing it out of his trailer. DiCaprio plays the role so well that it has you on the edge of your seat wondering if Dalton’s next breakdown is his last one.

While Dalton is being dramatic on set, Booth is free to ride around Hollywood. During his excursions, he meets a hippy named Pussycat. He picks her up while she was hitchhiking and she almost immediately asks him if he’d like sexual favors as payment. If you thought he’d say yes, you’d be surprised. He asks to see her ID and when she doesn’t have one, he refuses saying he didn’t want to have sex with a minor. The possible wife killer and meathead suddenly has morals that add to the complexity of the character and make you realize why you cared about him in the first place.

At the very end of the movie, the plot picks up. Booth is caught in the middle of a home invasion by the Mansion Family who planned to murder Dalton for insulting them. Booth quickly and violently decimates the three intruders with Dalton torching the last one with a flamethrower he had from a previous film. Watching both characters commit such feral acts of violence should be deplorable but DiCaprio and Pitt play it so well that it’s almost admirable the way their characters stuck their ground and defended their home. The movie then ends with Booth heading to the hospital for his minor injuries and Dalton going over to the neighbors for a drink, matching the rest of the tone of the slow plot movie.

For a movie with almost no plot and a run time of almost three hours, this movie sounds unwatchable. However, the complex characters completely carry the film and it’s refreshing to see that fantastic acting can be just as watchable as the most interesting plot in the world.