‘Once Upon a Time...in Hollywood’ is Tarantino at his best

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in "Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood."

Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio star in "Once Upon a Time...In Hollywood."

Sony Pictures / Contributed photo

The vivid imagination of movie director Quentin Tarantino recreates a Hollywood that never was in the wildly entertaining “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood.”

In one breathtaking sequence after another, this inventive storyteller celebrates real times in history just as he dares to rewrite moments forever planted in our memories. This valentine to how movies and television capture and confuse offers real insight into how the media can help us discover as well as distort. Few moviemakers can tell this type of story quite like Tarantino because he brings such care to every frame. The movie looks and sounds like something we may never see again.

As if declaring, “this is my tribute to the history movies teach us,” the director takes us back to a world of media wonder in the 1950s and 1960s. Leonardo DiCaprio is perfectly cast as a disconnected, discarded television star of a long-ago-cancelled western who threads a life together with guest shots on television shows, a few commercials here and there, and images in his Hollywood house of days once lived. Hanging on to the remnants of his career is his long-standing bodyguard, beautifully captured by Brad Pitt, a classic movie sidekick who drives Leo’s Cadillac by day, exists in a messy motor home by evening, and has a great dog.

As in all Tarantino movies, nothing can happen and everything can happen at the same time. In quick succession, DiCaprio appears in a television show opposite a young actress with a mind of her own, Pitt discovers a group of violent young people in an abandoned town once used for old television shows, director Roman Polanski and his wife Sharon Tate move in next door to DiCaprio, and the forgotten star is offered the chance to go to Italy to film what are called “spaghetti westerns.” As Tarantino seamlessly connects the imagined with the real, the movie takes off to a fantasy land framed by the headlines of the day. Along the way the moviemaker brilliantly recreates the look and feel of the period including a parade of amazing automobiles and a vivid collection of period clothing. The movie becomes a time machine back to that moment 50 years ago when movies could make us believe in many forms of heroes.

Beyond the details of the narrative — and the substance in Tarantino’s side trips from the central story — the film pays tribute to this moviemaker’s love for the art form itself. He magically fills every frame with images that tell many stories from the precise simulations of black-and-white television shows of the 1950s to the careful pacing of the dialogue sequences. But Tarantino is too savvy a director to ever limit his film to the story he tells. As rich a recreation of the past the film delivers, the movie surges as a commentary of today’s moral ambiguities that threaten how we live. By looking so closely at what created fear in the past, Tarantino issues a warning to all of us, today, to pay attention to what we must protect.

Film Nutritional Value: “Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood”

Content: High. Any time we can spend time cherishing a visionary moviemaker's view of worlds real and imagined is enjoyable and memorable.

Entertainment: High. Moviemaker Quentin Tarantino is sassy enough never to let us know what he wants us to think no matter the movie moment.

Message: High. As he makes a movie on the scale we may never see again, Tarantino makes us think about the truths found in exaggerated forms of reality.

Relevance: High. Any opportunity to share a wildly entertaining, and thought-provoking film, with older children is welcome. But this is not a family film.

Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children will have a lot to talk about even if the situations on screen appear distant from day-to-day life.

As serious as the film’s moral may be, this is one entertaining and fun roller-coaster ride. With such a light feel, Tarantino demonstrates a new level of confidence in his movie making. Not only does he love the movie he makes but he makes us love it too.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use and sexual profanity. The film runs 2 hours and 41 minutes.