There is no other filmmaker like Quentin Tarantino working today.
And Tarantino is the only filmmaker who could pull off something like "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood" - an ambitious ode to a bi-gone era in entertainment that is a buddy comedy set right in the middle of the Charles Manson murders. Tarantino manages to make the contrasting plot threads work in a mostly entertaining, star-studded extravaganza anchored by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt.
They play Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, a pair of longtime friends navigating through Hollywood in 1969. Dalton (DiCaprio) is a one-time TV star whose career is on the downside, while Booth is Dalton's long-time stunt double and personal assistant. Dalton lives in a posh neighborhood tucked away in the Hollywood Hills - living next door to Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie).
Tate's presence in the film immediately provides just one layer in a film practically overflowing with subtext. When Booth picks up a member of the Manson family, we know it's trouble and when the film builds to a climatic night in August, anyone that knows anything about Manson or Tate know where this story is headed.
But to Tarantino's credit, he has a few surprises up his sleeve that keep the audience guessing. He also has DiCaprio and Pitt both at the top of their respective games. DiCaprio isn't afraid to have a little fun with his own star-persona, playing a character full of so much insecurity that in one scene he needs a pep talk from an eight-year co-star.
That scene is one of many throughout "Hollywood" that capture the era, and this characters in a completely captivating manner. You get Pitt's Booth (Pitt just oozes charisma throughout) getting into a sparring session with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh in one of the many outstanding supporting roles) and a scene with Dalton and a producer (Al Pacino) that not only establishes the path of Dalton's character, but serves as a way to prime the audience for what they are about to experience.
But "Hollywood" isn't just about the boys. It's as much Tate's story, with Robbie and Tarantino crafting her starry eyed acceptance by Hollywood in impressive manner.
They make sure the audience is invested in Tate, so when we get to the final act it only adds to the tension of the situation.
"Hollywood" does feel like it is rambling a bit at times, especially in the first half, but once it becomes clear what Tarantino is up to here the film really starts to take off.
Tarantino has hinted that "Hollywood" might well be his swan song. Here is hoping that isn't the case, because "Hollywood" proves that nine films and nearly 30 years later, his voice and vision is as original as anyone working in Hollywood today.