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ONCE UPON A TIME… IN HOLLYWOOD (18, 161 mins)
For years, two-time Oscar winner Quentin Tarantino has been publicly declaring his intention to retire after 10 films in the director’s chair.
That day of reckoning moves ever closer with the release of his supposedly penultimate picture, a valentine to the golden age of Hollywood, which unspools the exploits of a fictional actor and his stunt double against the real-life backdrop of the Manson family murders in the summer of 1969.
Fact and blood-soaked fantasy are rumbustious playmates in Tarantino’s script, which momentarily orbits bona fide stars including Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) and Steve McQueen (Damian Lewis), and saves its most daring flourish for a sickeningly brutal finale that includes a close-up of a face being smashed repeatedly into a stone mantelpiece.
Since his eye-catching debut with Reservoir Dogs – a trim 97 minutes – brevity has seldom been the writer-director’s strong point and Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood falls foul of self-indulgent excesses that should perhaps have been addressed in the editing room.
Tarantino conjures moments of nerve-shredding tension that demonstrate his master of the craft, peaking with two prolonged sequences with Manson’s acolytes that tighten the large knot of tension in our stomachs.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), one-time star of TV western Bounty Law, becomes convinced that his career is over after an uncomfortable meeting with straight-talking agent Marvin Schwarz (Pacino).
The handsome leading man drowns his sorrows with best friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), who also acts as his chauffeur.
Cliff attempts to buoy Rick’s spirits as he prepares for a guest spot as the ‘bad guy’ on new TV series Lancer, starring James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant).
Meanwhile, director Roman Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) and pregnant actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) move into the neighbouring property to Rick, where they entertain a succession of friends including hairstylist Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch).
On the night of August 9, Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) dispatches four knife-wielding disciples – Tex (Austin Butler), Sadie (Mikey Madison), Flower Child (Maya Hawke) and Katie (Madisen Beaty) – to kill everyone inside the rented property at 10050 Cielo Drive.
Narrated by Kurt Russell’s stunt coordinator, Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood takes poetic licence with historical fact to pen a gushing love letter to the art of filmmaking.
Period detail is impressive, epitomised by a groovy soundtrack of late 1960s toe taps including Vanilla Fudge’s cover of The Supremes’ You Keep Me Hangin’ On.
Pacing occasionally drags but DiCaprio and Pitt enliven lulls with terrific performances as fading products of a Californian dream factory, who are staring down their inevitable decline with a combustive mix of weariness and frustration.
Like the auteur behind the lens, the end credits on their creative endeavours are almost ready to roll.
Released: August 14