Once upon a time, Quentin Tarantino was the savior of cinema. Hailed as a new genius since the early ’90s for his cut-and-paste influences and throwback style, he’s since become one of the most admired (if polarizing) directors in cinema. Well, video store clerks rejoice, the first trailer for Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, the 9th Tarantino film, has dropped.
For the first time, we get to see Tarantino not only mine the films of the 1960s like he has done his entire career but actually set a film there, smack-dab in the Summer of Love.
There’s actually a lot to unpack here for such a short trailer. We open in characteristic Tarantino style in a 4:3 aspect ratio of faded western star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) on a saloon town backlot, discussing their working relationship with a TV interviewer.
Dalton’s description of stunt doubles helping to “carry the load” of the dangerous work actors need to perform sets us off on an excellent little montage of shoot-em-up moments from DiCaprio, as well as some good back-and-forth between DiCaprio and Pitt. It feels very much like their too-cool riffing will be as much fun as the action-packed western scenes in the film.
And then there’s the familiar hit of the vintage Columbia pictures logo…
…some mean-mugging from DiCaprio and Pitt (more on that later)…
…and we’re off on another trip inside Tarantino’s funhouse mirror view of history.
One of the major takeaways of this trailer is Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate and how little she seems to be featured. It’s not the last surprise as far as focus goes, but it is the most jarring. We mostly see her Go-Go dancing like this.
Alongside more mean-mugging from Leo and Brad.
And yet more Go-Go dancing from Robbie’s Sharon Tate.
Tarantino’s reimagining of the 1960s has been a theme of his work from the beginning, and the sets of Once Upon A Time definitely hint at his past use of dayglo decor.
But make no mistake, this is definitely a gritty, seedy Hollywood, highlighting washed out shots of movie theatres on the strip.
The focus on the strip, and not the Hollywood Hills or canyons, seems to push us toward the older, more out of touch Hollywood of Rick Dalton.
To remind us that this is indeed the Summer of Love, we see a group of hippies prancing merrily down the street. But amongst them, hidden by a quick cut, a tall male with long hair and a beard. Perhaps our first shot of Manson and The Family?
More mugging from the dynamic duo, cruising the strip. The clothes and textures of this film look to be almost as interesting as the cast, and dollars to doughnuts the set design gets a lot of praise when all is said and done.
And finally our first real taste of Tarantino’s reimagined history: an extended bit with Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) sparring with Pitt’s Booth. There’s much more Lee than expected here, and the movements, voice, and look are all spot on.
Brad Pitt is having a lot of fun in these scenes that recall his most memorable bits in Inglourious Basterds, hinting that perhaps Tarantino knows the best thing to do with Pitt (and arguably DiCaprio) is to let them be funny and weird and never too serious.
The hand-to-hand combat scene between Lee and Booth is one of the most dynamic in the entire trailer. At 55 years old, Pitt looks deadly. Not everyone can pull off fight choreography and make it look good, but these two make it look easy.
The long take fight scenes, with a detailed focus on the combatants, recall Kill Bill Vol.1, Tarantino’s most overt homage to the ’60s Kung Fu film. Expect to see a lot more action in this film than the crime drama that was initially assumed.
More glamor shots of Robbie. As Sharon Tate, her role is more defined by history than others, so perhaps with this trailer, avoiding potential spoilers is the game. Still, it would have been nice to see more from her than just dancing around.
Though we will take Leo dancing like a fool any day. This frame will get meme’d to hell and back in the next few weeks. It also points us toward Dalton’s arc as a washed-up actor hoping for a career renaissance, perhaps taking any gig he can to stay in the public eye. Given that this plot mirrors the career of many Tarantino collaborators, it’ll be interesting to see what he does with it.
And our first and only shot of Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) is a simple character portrait, showing the man as what he likely was to his followers; a handsome, affable hippie. Again, they may be hoping to avoid spoiling too much with the historical figures involved in the Manson Family murders, opting instead to show off Bruce Lee riffing on his deadly-weapon hands.
It’s also notable that Herriman is playing Manson in not one but two projects this year, portraying the late Manson on David Fincher‘s Mindhunter later in the season. It will be incredibly interesting to see what, if any, differences the two takes on the character may have.
More of Margot Robbie dancing. Hopefully, in the next trailer, we get at least a taste of what kind of role we’re looking at here, but it definitely seems as though this will be Pitt and DiCaprio’s film.
The title sequence as teased in the poster. Contained within the world of the trailer, the colors and font make a bit more sense, but it still feels stylistically cartoonish in a strange way. Though as with all things Tarantino, it would be best to assume it’s a choice rather than an oversight.
The love of old Hollywood and its backlots feels like the heart of this film, rather than murder in Laurel Canyon or intrigue in Mulholland drive. Tarantino has been obsessed with this era of filmmaking for his entire career, and the opportunity to play on sets that look like his favorite western serials and drape himself in Hollywood trivia feels like a no-brainer. We would love to see more of these little details in the vein of Franco Nero‘s Django Unchained cameo.
The last shots of the trailer feature a more grizzled looking Dalton, breaking down into tears after a young girl compliments his acting skill. This is the perfect example of Tarantino’s ability to utilize DiCaprio well in his universe, emphasizing little moments like this scattered amongst the big, broad, and weird.
His look here begs the question of how long the timeline of this film really is. It seems clear from this initial trailer that the Summer of Love/Manson Family film that was expected is not necessarily the case— it’s more of a love letter to the Old Hollywood that Tarantino grew up lionizing and has borrowed from on every one of his films. Hopefully, in the next trailer, we get a better look at Sharon Tate, and maybe some tastes of Herriman’s Manson.