The ninth Tarantino film Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was, to me, a love-it-or-hate-it scenario for film nerds. There were a great many nuances that needed a second viewing, especially with the denial of the usual rampant violence that accompanies a Tarantino film. There weren't really any grandiose gestures of blood and viscera, just a few almost slapstick kind of bumps and bruises through to the gorey finale. The entire film is shot with a sort of saturated golden-quality that obviously symbolizes the time period that they're in, the late 1960's, the Golden Age of Hollywood. The coloring of a lot of scenes gives the movie a sort of nostalgic quality, leading into the notion that the violence, failures, and turmoil that surround that cast are somehow going to turn out just fine.
Brad Pitt and Leo DiCaprio co-star as two friends navigating a rapidly changing scene in Hollywood, coinciding with the Manson Family Murders as a brewing story deep in the background. Pitt, playing as Cliff Booth, acts as a defunct sort of butler and recently unemployable stuntman parallel to DiCaprio's Rick Dalton, an old TV cowboy sweetheart and rough-rider. I found that Pitt's character was far more engaging, receiving a little more screen time, and overall just a personal favorite. Between the two, Booth is played out as far more rough-and-tumble, and treks the screen in the most cowboy-ish of ways, something Tarantino has quite keenly placed into his recent films since Django. There's a rough texture to this character, with a simmering violence that rears itself casually in bold streaks of Herculean strength. Combat with the film's final villains and a Bruce Lee "appearance" deliver a man who exists with boundless potential savagery, but manages to retain a cool George Bush-like casualness throughout. His ending as an unlikely hero is off-handed in the sense that the Manson murderer's arrival merely goads him into self-defense, seemingly a natural and in proportion response to a home invasion, rather than Cliff riding out to daringly save a damsel in distress like Django. There isn't a modicum of bravery in his ruthlessly efficient dispatch of the would-be killers, instead a comically brutal killing, like the GoT's Mountain destroying a charging peasant. But violence isn't all that Pitt offers Booth's journey. There's some morality in his persona. His reluctance to fight a cocky Bruce Lee, and his rejection of the hippie girls sexual advances show that there are many layers to the Cliff Booth onion as someone who is fully capapble of being a monster, but somehow just isn't all that into his baser nature. As the financially less successful partner in the film's duo, Cliff Booth is far more prepared to handle stressful situations, than the panicky Rick Dalton, who's finale in using the flame-thrower to finish off someone who is basically already a goner is totally emblematic of Dalton's penchant for overreaction and blind fears.
Rick Dalton is the more often seen hero, starring in his own successful career as a TV cowboy in the golden-age of Hollywood, and his subsequent attempts to break into the film industry are met with failure and heartbreak. DiCaprio brings out Dalton as the pretty boy, the handsome face that audiences and fellow members of society trust, in direct opposition to Booth, who's every move is met with violence and subversion. However, between the two, Dalton is far more flustered, in spite of his apparent talent as an actor. He has some tender moments, such as when Booth is carried off and he expresses his gratitude for his only good friend, and when Dalton sits next to the young method actor Trudi. His vice as a functioning alcoholic isn't really met with much focus or muster, only a brief moment where Dalton cries in his trailer about his drunkeness, which more so plays into Dalton's overarching character flaw of being deeply insecure about his status. I feel like this character wasn't given enough screen-time to really flesh him out, with DiCaprio's few moments delivering a true sense of Dalton's greatest fear that the good days were over, and that he does have a strong notion that the only person who he can truly rely on is Cliff. But other than that, the audience isn't really given a great indicator on how Dalton sees a great many other things.
And maybe that's the point. Maybe Dalton's only purpose is to serve as Booth's foil. That regardless of how much Dalton is carried by Booth, Dalton will end up receiving the golden goose. As Booth is carted away, high on acid and with a knife wound, Dalton is invited up the hill, unscathed and as the victorious hero, to the Polanski residence, where, presumably, he befriends Sharon Tate and rises back to film stardom.
All throughout, my favorite Tarantino film, though for many other fans of his work, it was far too slow and chattering for their liking. Understandable, but I beg to differ.