Those that watch Tarantino for the gore and the shock value are going to be greatly disappointed with his ninth film. It's a two hour slog for them to get to their sick candy. For the rest of us, Tarantino has crafted a cool, retro love letter to Hollywood that mostly goes down smoothly. The film follows fictional actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) and real-life actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) during the days before the Manson Family Murders. Is this one of Tarantino's revisionist histories? I'll never tell. Besides, the movie may build towards an inevitably violent ending however it's the journey that matters, not the destination.
Rick Dalton's star is on the wane as neighbor Sharon Tate's is on the rise. Meanwhile Charles Manson and his followers have taken up residence at Spahn Ranch. Tarantino has fun blending these three storylines but not always in the ways you'd expect. Manson, such a fascinating figure to so many, is virtually absent from the film. Tate is seen but rarely heard in Robbie's exuberant performance. The majority of the film centers on Dalton and Booth.
DiCaprio's Dalton is a former 1950s TV star whose movie career is in danger. He's mostly playing supporting roles as villains on TV shows. (We get to watch a day of shooting in one of the film's best sequences.) He's a masculine actor in the Steve McQueen mold (who he even loses a significant role to). Brad Pitt's Booth is an out of work stuntman who functions as Rick Dalton's driver and confidant. Tarantino painstakingly recreates 1960s Hollywood. (Like most Tarantino films, the soundtrack is amazing.)
Other stand-out performances include Margaret Qualley as a hippie that Booth has a crush on, Timothy Olyphant as the star of the show Dalton guest stars on, and Julia Butters as a young method actress who bonds with Dalton on set.
Despite critical acclaim, it's hard to say whether this will be an Oscar contender. I'd love to see a Best Supporting Actress nomination for Butters. I wish DiCaprio hadn't won his Oscar for the boring mess that is The Revenant. This movie is much more fun. Pitt may have a better chance at being nominated for the upcoming sci-fi drama Ad Astra. Margot Robbie's role here is probably too small to merit awards attention. Hollywood does love movies about itself so this could get a Best Picture and/or Best Director nomination. The surest bet is probably a Best Original Screenplay nomination.