It’s fair to say that this film would be quite frustrating for a lot of people. It’s a meandering, seemingly meaningless sequence of events that lead up to a crazy ending. There is no head, no tail. It’s not a story with a beginning, a defined tension and a climax that resolves it. It’s just a random sequence of events in the life of a few people. There is a lot of driving around, a lot of old television serials/commercials/comics/books/magazines etc etc and odd peeks into people’s houses or into conversations that seem inconsequential to anything. But then it’s not meant to be a story. It’s meant to be a love letter. A fairytale. A wish. It’s a look back with a sigh! Of Tarantino wishing things would have ended differently.
For truly appreciating this film, context is essential. For people who have lived in that era or have read about it or who live in Los Angeles, this would certainly be much more enjoyable. Imagine a film in which you deep dive into the TV world of early 90s in India. With black and white TVs having limited hours of programming - of Buniyaads and Mahabharats. Every reference would come with a sweet pang of nostalgia, won’t it? That’s exactly what context does. And that’s why to appreciate the film it would be essential to read up on this era. It’s essential to know about Sharon Tate and what happened to her. It’s essential to know about the Manson family, Cielo Drive and about Spagetti Westerns! Coz, only then would you know the motivation behind making this film. Only then would you realise, that Once Upon a Time isn’t just a retelling of a time gone by… it’s an attempt to rewrite it in a way that it should have been.
So, the film is essentially built around the 2 main characters played by Di Caprio and Pitt. While Leo plays this semi-successful TV actor, Brad plays his stunt double. Leo is a stuttering actor who is on the decline and is struggling to stay relevant. He has great talent, but just doesn’t have that extra bit to make it big. Brad on the other hand chooses to live life without any fuss. He is happy playing the stunt double and really doesn’t have an end game in mind. He is an affable guy who can become utterly violent when the need arises. Leo is also the neighbor of the recently shifted sweethearts – Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate ( played by Margot Robbie). And that’s why their story is fatefully connected to hers’.
To say that these 2 legends bring their A-game to the table is an understatement. Their chemistry is crackling, spell binding. Brad oozes Star power in every single frame he is present it. He plays the cool, tough guy with utter ease. And Leo blows you away with his on and off-screen persona. In one particular scene he swings effortlessly between the stuttering, underconfident actor and the on-screen menacing villain he is playing on a show. Just watching that would make you marvel at the control over his craft.
And talking about craft, Tarantino does a masterclass in dialogues and storytelling yet again. The way he immerses you into the bygone era. The way he builds a divide between the worlds of a current super successful siren ( Sharon Tate) and a has-been TV star ( Leo), even though they are neighbours on Cielo Drive, is masterful. The way he builds tension in a scene where Brad goes to Spahn Movie Ranch ( almost Hitchcockian). And the way only he does Violence! It’s all so beautiful, so effortlessly amazing. While he does go a little overboard in having endless drive sequences with Radio shows playing in the background, it eventually does the job of truly getting you into the mind-space of that era. Knowing Tarantino, he would have chosen to frustrate the audience a little bit, coz he felt it was necessary to get you acclimatized.
I couldn’t sleep after the movie. I had to read up on a lot of things. Also, the climax just shook me up coz I knew about Sharon Tate and her fate. I absolutely loved the film. Maybe because I am an unabashed Tarantino fan. But also because of the way he weaves the story together. The way his entire team meticulously recreates this bygone era. There are so many nuggets of wisdom there. So many things to learn about storytelling. Infact I need to watch it again. But I dunno about you. I would say, if you want to watch it, build a little bit of context. At the very least read up about Tate and the Manson Family. It will help you appreciate the film a little more and explain a lot of things. Tarantino never explains it explicitly. You would have to make that effort, to really appreciate the joys of the glorious past.. of Lost Angeles.