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Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

Director Quentin Tarantino Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie Sony 165 minutes 2019 Category 18

Quentin Tarantino’s iconic films tend to be peppered with language that you don’t normally hear in Sunday School. Added to this there are two sections of the film that contain Tarantino’s trademark violence – though this does result in the “bad guys” being put in their place. Overall this film is a serious piece of cinematic art, with a stellar cast and a brilliant soundtrack. 

Tarantino can certainly tell a story and does so with a fresh take on some real characters and events that occurred in Hollywood in 1969. There are a number of overlapping stories going on: the main story is about the friendship between an actor and his stunt double, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, respectively. The pair have a real chemistry that makes their friendship appear to be movingly genuine. And the film depicts well the rapidly changing trends in what makes a great actor or a great show – all wrapped up in themes of faded glory, moments of nostalgia and a film career having a second wind. 

The second theme is a very different take on the real-life actress Sharon Tate, wife of the now very shady and controversial film director Roman Polanski. Instead of only seeing her in the light of her tragic end, this film explores her simple joy in life. Tarantino said that he wanted the audience to witness Tate: “just existing”. My favourite bit is seeing her get in free to see herself in a film she had recently made. 

The third strand is the story of the sinister cult led by the menacing Charles Manson. Ironically the use of violence as entertainment is a feature of the daily routine of the cult, and shapes their final attempt to use violence to punish the film makers who have desensitised the public. I don’t want to spoil the unpredictable ending, but this is where the title Once Upon a Time in Hollywood comes into its own. 

Should Christians watch a film like this? Clearly, it's not for everyone. It is a great exploration of the precarious nature of celebrity and fame. Tarantino seems to be both intoxicated by Hollywood’s charms yet tired of its hollow ruthlessness, which consumes the heart of fresh talent and then spits out the shell. Yet the film also has numerous tender moments of delight in small things, meaningful human interaction and friendship, that suggests that common grace can be found even in an environment as hard-nosed as the movie business. 

Christian story tellers could also learn a thing or two from how Tarantino manages to spin a tale; seldom has two hours and 45 minutes passed so quickly!

John Woods is pastor of Lancing Tabernacle in West Sussex


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