“Once Upon A Time….In Hollywood”

Once upon a time, I had said that I wasn’t going to any more Tarantino movies. Quentin just likes horrendous violence too much. But a dearth of summer choices had me sitting in my usual theater seat watching Brad Pitt playing a stunt double for Leonardo DiCaprio.

Rick Dalton ( DiCaprio) is a has-been from the 1950’s, an old-Western villain, who understands his coming irrelevancy. Cliff ( Pitt) is Rick’s stuntman. He loves to cock his finger and point an imaginary gun at his friend: “ You are Rick Fucking Dalton, and don’t you forget it.” Nostalgia reigns in his cowboy smile. He bolsters his friend and his meal-ticket’s ego.

The usual booze, cars, and girls come with the “ High Noon” drama, but there are just goofy westerns and no high virtue here. With no core narrative, we get little snippets of shallow characters. There are good overhead camera shots, car revs, and who doesn’t admire Pitt’s sun-glistened six-pack !

Tarantino is good at meshing fast curves and swerves out of baby-blue Karmann Ghias. His set props of Wheaties cereal boxes, Wolf dog food, and Kraft Mac and Cheese are evocative of a time. As are kidney-shaped pools, T.V. Guides, and the Playboy Mansion and Aqua Net hair spray. 1969 tans and all the Robert Goulet in the sound track are seen by me as more “ Making fun of” than homage. But then again,this is how I read Tarantino. Tarantino’s big inside joke is “ It’s the actor’s job to be in pursuit of excellence.”

Poking fun at fame and taking an “easy, breezy, attitude” with historical events and with violence, sets the tone. Our narrator helps tie the fragments of discussions of the actor‘s craft and the actor’s fears with the Charles Manson murders. The cult is here with the drug-addled Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). Sleazy turns into horrific. A timeline is flashed on the screen ingeniously: 11:00 joints & reading, 12:00 dog walk and acid cig. The violence that some came to see in being readied. We are being readied. And viewers are left with the grim, devilish tale of “ Once upon a time in Hollywood…”.


Blowing sand doesn’t usually stir one to coitus, but even one reviewer could not help getting confused with French actress’ Marion Cotillard surname. ” Coitillard” is easy to explain away. Yes, it is the sex scenes between Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard that we will remember. Reminiscent of the torrid Burt Lancaster and  Deborah Kerr surf embrace in the 1953 movie “From Here To Eternity,  director Robert Zemeckis does his own magic with hot, swirling sand.

Most of the action takes place in 1942-45 war-weary London, yet there are the  sweeping sand ridges of French Morocco to broaden the scene. Director Zemeckis, a Chicago  native of Polish descent, is superb at fresh visual takes on  superimposed North Africa. We initially hear the sound of a single prop plane, see day break on the horizon , and then as we are settling in, we are startled at  the dangling, booted-legs  of Max Vatan. The  intelligence officer  is in front of us like a deus ex machina.

Brad Pitt is the sumptuous Max ready for his orders. Unlike Lawrence of Arabia, his feet crunch the sand and his garb blends with the tawny taupes  of  desert espionage. Screenwriter, Steven Knight, provides almost campy dialogue as Max is handed a wedding band from his driver and told that his wife “..will be wearing  a purple dress” ,and ” Look for the hummingbird.” Casablanca, here we come.

If French resistance fighter, Marianne Beausejour, ( love the soap opera-like  names) is to be ” the beauty of the day” , her night-time allure overshadows. Marion Cotillard has never looked more worthy of the ” classy hot ” label. Her clothes are worth the price of admission. A rose-gold,shoulder bedazzled, charmeuse  gown being my favorite, though there are many others. Lace negligees and silk robes, too. The stars shine brightly, and carry dialogue like, ” Heard a lot about you around the circuit” with aplomb.

Our couple, Max and Marianne, ally and machine-gun-down a German ambassador and a few friends at a dinner dance. The violence is not as difficult to watch as the hand to throat strangulation of a German interrogator in a phone booth. Again, the corny dialogue doesn’t hit you when you are enthralled with star-power. Cotillard’s, “I keep the emotions real.” and, “If we are dead tomorrow, no one will know.” Along with Pitt’s, “We are both alive. Come with me to London and be my wife”, are all permissible in the land of romance and adventure.

As an espionage/thriller, “Allied” is suspenseful. And, oddly, we are not certain if trust matters in this love scenario. It is two against the world, with a baby thrown in for added intensity and eventual succor.

Enjoy Pitt’s poker shuffle, ” that was in the cards” puns, and the sandstorm love-making. The set design and details are lovely: the Nazi ‘s Monte Blanc fountain pens, the English countryside mushroom-picking, the breezy  Moroccan rooftops, the Graham Green in-bed reading.

The realism of a baby born amid bombings and the internal workings of the military “rat-catchers” not so true or lovely. I enjoyed the lesbian sister and Max’s trust in her, as well as Max’s whispering in baby Anna’s ear, “It will be okay; it is not true.”

Wounded war veterans are given sympathetic screen time and more allusions to “Casablanca” piano playing layer the rather predictable story arc. New recruits fall when self-interest confuses protocol. Military superiors make humane concessions in the  land of “yes, sir” and “no, sir”. If “marriages made in the field rarely work” , at least this tear-jerker steams up the screen with enough complexity to leave you emotionally shaken. Cotillard’s fear, remorse,and resoluteness  is absolutely stunning.