Get ready to squee. And then also to shake your head and mutter “Classic Tarantino.”
It’s official. We’ve got a title. And, so much more. Stars. Roles. A setting. Finally, some details! Quentin Tarantino‘s ninth film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is set in Los Angeles in 1969 and will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt. There have been rumors of their involvement. Folks thought it was possible DiCaprio had signed on to play Mr. Helter Skelter, race-war inciter himself, Charles Manson. Nope. DiCaprio will play Rick Dalton, an ex-TV Western star who’s watched Hollywood pass him by. Pitt will play Cliff Booth, Dalton’s longtime stunt double.
Well, goddamn. You just go ahead and marinate in that for a moment. Brad Pitt is gonna play DiCaprio’s longtime stunt double. Y’all, I’m there for it.
Oh, and Dalton lives next door to Sharon Tate and Roman Polanski.
Let’s dig into this a bit. What do all these details add up to?
DiCaprio’s first role after his Oscar-winning performance in The Revenant will be as a Hollywood star who has aged out of the in-crowd. Which tells us everything we need to know about the quality of the part. It’s a critical moment for an actor, having just won an Oscar. Everyone will be watching to see what you do. Who will you become? “Past my prime,” says the Oscar winner.
Tarantino offers great roles. Calvin Candie, DiCaprio’s role in Django Unchained, is so gross and evil and sick and fucking watchable. All of that is down to the fact that DiCaprio went to work on the part of that racist, murderous, stupid-ass nonsense science-believing dirtbag with unparalleled gusto.
Tarantino said he’s been working on the script for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood for five years. Given that he sold DiCaprio on taking the exact part he’s probably worried about living in real life, I’m very optimistic the script is high quality.
Surprisingly, the two actors have never really shared the screen together. Both of them appeared on Growing Pais early in their careers (Pitt as two different guest roles in the third and fourth seasons; DiCaprio as a regular in Season 7), and Pitt produced the DiCaprio-led The Departed, while they are both in Martin Scorsese’s casino-ad short film The Audition. Even there, they aren’t ever in the same scene.
So, imagine Pitt and DiCaprio finally playing off each other. It’s exciting. But what is Tarantino going to have these mega-stars get up to in the movie?
The filmmaker described Dalton as someone “struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore.” That fits for the time period. Even if in 1969, Gunsmoke and Bonanza were still the second and third highest-rated primetime shows on television. Just six years later, there wasn’t a TV Western to be found. It was a tectonically significant time in a Hollywood of major transition. Careers were lost. Stars were cast aside. Growth and change go hand in hand with destruction.
Tarantino doesn’t do anything so one-dimensionally dramatic. Nope. He’ll set this cultural shift against the murders perpetrated by the Manson cultists. The desperation of a leading man and an outmoded stuntman, forced to make sense of creation through the lens of destruction, will be contextualized with the murder of a young, female Hollywood star. Herself the wife of filmmaker (and later, notable statutory rapist) Roman Polanski.
While it isn’t clear how big a role Tate (and her murder by the Manson cultists) will have in the movie, Tarantino has announced the film will be released worldwide on August 9, 2019. That will be 50 years to the day since the murders.
There’s the loud, casually provocative Tarantino we know. Leave it to him to market that movie using the anniversary, in living memory, of the deaths of real humans. I mean, fuck.
That’s Tarantino to a fucking T. Go ahead and shake your head. Classic Tarantino.
He really doesn’t care all that much for historical fidelity, though (see Inglourious Basterds). It’s just as likely Tate kills Manson. So, who can really say where this is all going to go? Regardless, he’s built himself an interesting field of play, steeped in the passing of an era and a notorious cult murder ripe for Tarantino’s unique love for exploitative ultraviolence and gore.