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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a Homage that is Stylish but Not Substantial

A still from 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

A still from 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio has all the classic Tarantino ingredients – laughter contrasted with mayhem and wit with bloodshed.

The master American auteur, Quentin Tarantino, never ceases to surprise me. In the early years of 2000, he, as the head of the Cannes Film Festival jury, gave the Palme d'Or to Michael Moore's Bush bashing documentary, Fahrenheit 9/11. Many of us were shocked.

Later, his Inglorious Basterds weaved in a Jewish fantasy during World War II of getting all the top Nazi leaders in one place and destroying them. Of course, we all know that such a thing never happened, but in Tarantino’s canvas, it took place as the movie's finale. I loved the film, especially for having discovered a brilliant actor like Christoph Waltz. He was a small time German television actor, who rose to fame after Tarantino cast him as a cruel Nazi officer.

And just before the movie was screened at Cannes some years ago, Tarantino made an appeal to all those about to watch his work. 'Please do not divulge the end'.

Similarly, just before Tarantino’s latest, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, was screened at Cannes on Thursday evening, up went another plea. 'Please do not reveal the climax'.

Tarantino's newest outing is set in Hollywood in the late 1960s, when he was growing up there. The film made it to Cannes at the last minute. The movie in 35mm took a long time to be edited, but Cannes waited. For, after all Tarantino was a hot favourite of the French Riviera, and there was a huge crowd pushing its way inside the auditorium before the start of the film.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is a take on the brutal murder of actress Sharon Tate, by the Manson Family. She was eight months pregnant with husband Roman Polanski's child. But the killers did not spare her.

Many believed that the golden period of Hollywood ended on the night of the gruesome murder – August 9, 1969. Tarantino must have been six, but the adoration he shows for Tate (played in the film by Margot Robbie) and the respect for Polanski (Rafal Zawierucha) are admirable – though he seems more symbolic than anything else. Which is a pity, for who can belittle Mr Polanski and his masterly body of work.

The movie plot is rather thin, and does end in a crime. It has more to do with Tate's neighbours – Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a television star, and his best pal, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), a stunt artist. Though there are liberal takes on the Hollywood of an era gone by, the film seems more like a buddy adventure. There is very little of Sharon or Roman; they flit in and out of the screen.

But towards the end, the breezy atmosphere changes, and we see the Manson's lair at the Spahn Movie Ranch. There is evil in the air, and murder does not seem far behind. And one begins to dread what is coming.

Once Upon A Time In Hollywood has all the classic Tarantino ingredients – laughter contrasted with mayhem, wit with bloodshed. Only that the director is too much in love with his Hollywood, and he takes his story towards an end that he wants or imagines or desires. Call it a homage to Hollywood or requiem. But all in Tarantino style, though I wished that there was more substance in the movie.

(Author, commentator and movie critic Gautaman Bhaskaran has covered Cannes Film Festival close to three decades)

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