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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Quentin Tarantino’s fairy tale about a golden age is in theaters.

Alissa Wilkinson covers film and culture for Vox. Alissa is a member of the New York Film Critics Circle and the National Society of Film Critics.

Metacritic score: 85

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the story of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor who was huge in the 1950s but whose star is fading. Rick’s stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, mesmerizing in this role), also acts as his driver, best friend, and pep talk provider. Two main stories run on parallel tracks in the film; one concerns Rick’s neighbor Sharon Tate, who is carefree, innocent, and eager to please. The other follows Rick and Cliff, which often splits into two stories of its own: Rick’s struggle to be an actor of real worth in a changing industry, and Cliff’s brush with a group of teenaged girls (and a few guys) living on an abandoned ranch that once functioned as a movie set. That group just so happens to be the Manson family.

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature is a fairy tale, a fantasy, and a wistful elegy for a world that most of us wish we lived in — most of all, Tarantino himself. Famously obsessed with the history of cinema and its preservation, the director has recreated a world he wishes he could have worked in with such care and skill and love that, for the most part, it feels like his most personal film. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is lots of fun, but it’s also strangely, hauntingly sad.