Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source of historical information. If someone changes an entry, and enough people co-sign it, the false information can prevail, at least for a little while.
Director Quentin Tarantino did his own Wiki edits in 2009 with Inglourious Basterds, reimagining the outcome of World War II. 10 years later, he does so again with Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood, rewriting popular history in classic Tarantino fashion.
The film takes goes back 50 years to 1969 Hollywood, as actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) faces a conundrum. A former star in the 1950s western TV show Bounty Law, he struggles to stay employed as an actor. The only gigs he's getting are parts as the “heavy” guy or the villain for TV shows. After a meeting with agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino, having more fun on screen than he’s had in years), Dalton finds a solution to resurrect his career: Spaghetti westerns.
After the meeting, he confides in his best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) that he's officially a has-been. Because what Hollywood respected actor would go to Italy to shoot cowboy flicks?
In addition to being Dalton's stunt double, Booth is also his personal driver (an excessive drinker, Dalton’s license has been revoked) and helps fix things around the house. Booth faces his own difficulty in getting other gigs, as it’s rumored that he killed his wife in a mysterious boating accident.
Whether the rumors are true, Dalton doesn't mind. Booth takes the struggling actor back to his Cielo Drive home every night, where his new neighbors Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) zip sports cars in and out of their estate. Dalton laments to Booth that he wishes he could be invited to a pool party and find his way into one of Roman's next films.
It’s all fun, but after about an hour I found myself wondering what the film was about. This isn’t a criticism. As writer and director, Tarantino is in no rush as he builds a world of flower power and Hollywood excess with exacting detail. Real-life actors from yesteryear flit in and out as characters — there’s Steve McQueen (played by Billions actor Damian Lewis), a hilarious scene where Booth engages in a friendly fighting competition with a young Bruce Lee (Mike Moh). [Online copy corrected.]
But despite all the noise, Once Upon a Time is undoubtedly a buddy comedy, and DiCaprio and Pitt are bloody good in it. And their characters are played for more than just laughs. You feel sorry for Dalton when he cries in his trailer after flubbing his lines (and gives himself a pep talk to stop drinking and immediately grabs a flask).
Dalton struggles to navigate a Hollywood that’s changing. Maybe it's all the damn hippies invading the area. We see brief moments of Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and eventually meet his followers who live on the Spahn Ranch. There’s a heart-pounding encounter when Booth picks up a hitchhiker and barely escapes the cult.
The film is similar to an episode of Boardwalk Empire, as real and fictional events and people intertwine. Once Upon a Time’s climax is a big left turn, an Inglourious Basterds-ish “What if?” that displays Tarantino’s impressive talent as butterfly effect puppeteer. It’s just as gory as Basterds, but not in the way you’d expect.
Once Upon a Times is the result of a filmmaker with almost three decades in the business writing a love letter to Hollywood. It's easy to see Dalton, and his feeling left behind, as an avatar for Tarantino and the director’s own feelings about drastic shifts in the consumption of movies and other entertainment.
Tarantino has often said that he only wants to make 10 movies before bowing out. If you count the two Kill Bill halves as one film, Once Upon a Time is No. 9. And it reflects a director that might well be closer to the end than the beginning. But also one who is still determinedly — and convincingly — doing things his own way.