By DAVID LEE ZAMORA
Special to the Parade
If you’re looking for an accurate recreation of the (Charles) Manson Family murders, then Quintin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is not that movie. But if you’re looking for a warped version of history, where two friends find themselves in the path of the Manson family’s deadly lust, then you’ve found the movie.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place in 1969, following the actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his best friend, stuntman and chauffeur Cliff Booth everyday lives in Hollywood alongside the everlasting presence of the Manson family as they frolic around the streets of Los Angeles.
This film’s plot is lacking, mostly being carried along by the actors doing a wonderful job bringing the end
of the golden age of Hollywood and the sinister Manson Family to life. Leonardo DiCaprio does a great job playing a famed alcoholic actor who thinks he’s past his prime. You can tell the huge amount of stress that is piling up on his character, while he’s trying to capture his fading glory in the Hollywood limelight. Brad Pitt does a terrific job playing himself—I mean—Cliff Booth: a starving stuntman working as a chauffeur for Rick Dalton. I really enjoyed Brad Pitt’s character the most, who had an interesting backstory that, unfortunately, wasn’t touched on much: only that he is a war veteran and he fought the legendary martial artist Bruce Lee. Margot Robbie played actress Sharon Tate, who was among those murdered by the Manson family. Robbie plays the character well, but she spends most of the movie as a background character, showing parts of her daily life, used to build up the sense of dread the viewer has during the already-known, climactic and gruesome end.
The Manson Family’s on-screen presence builds tension throughout the film, but that’s the most their characters, collectively, offer. Charles Manson (Damon Herriman), the group’s leader and namesake, is only in the film for one scene, with a couple of lines, making his appearance no more significant than a cheap cameo. As for the members of the family, PussyCat (Margaret Qualley), who plays a brief love interest to Booth, is the only member the viewer gets to know. Even then, PussyCat’s character is quickly tossed away, after Booth angers the Manson family. Pussycat isn’t even apart of the four Manson members that attack the protagonists at the end She could have played a major role in the film, but instead was made into a side character whose role was, ultimately, cliche and forgettable.The film wasted its potential: it could have been a great horror or thriller, starring two men trying to escape from the influence of Manson and his followers. Instead, Tarantino made a buddy comedy that plays that tragic event for laughs, which greatly disappointed me.
The film feels like a failed attempt to capture the tight knit stores of Tarantino. His other films, like Pulp Fiction, was shown as a “slice of life” with well-performed characters who had great lines, whose stories were interwoven with each other almost perfectly, making the film almost effortlessly engrossing. This film is sloppy, with some characters’ stories going nowhere, making you feel as though Tarantino didn’t put much thought into it, as if the Manson Family was an afterthought in the story between two burnt out movie people who find work again.