CEDAR CREEK LAKE–The ninth film from Quentin Tarantino does not approach the raw, creative intensity of his first eight movies. This one is so laid-back it almost seems lazy.
The setting is 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a cowboy actor whose career is on the slide. He seems to have one good friend in the business, his stunt double,Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Rick’s had a couple of DUIs, so Cliff is his driver now, as well as his roommate, bodyguard and general handyman.
Tarantino creates several parallel scenarios, and switches back and forth between them. Rick gets a gig doing spaghetti Westerns in Italy and Cliff accompanies him. They remain friends even though Rick returns with an Italian wife, his former leading lady and tells Cliff he no longer needs his services.
It so happens that living next door to Rick and Cliff is the famous movie director Roman Polanski and his lovely wife, Sharon (Margot Robbie.) While the highly-successful husband is away on business, we watch Sharon as she goes to a local theater to watch a movie she happens to be in, putting her bare feet up on the back of the chair in front of her, seemingly without a care in the world. Yes, it’s foreshawdowing.
While Rick is on set, having settled into his recent type-casting of playing bad guys, Cliff picks up a hitchiker who asks to be taken to Spahn Ranch, which Cliff is familiar with, as a former site of some movie shooting. But now, it appears to be home to a “bunch of hippies,” mostly young women, who seem to live a communal existence. But there’s an edginess to the group that belies the classic hippie mantra of “peace and love.”
Finally, we get a sense of where all this is going–the famous murder by the Charles Manson cult of Sharon Tate, and all the people who happened to be visiting her house that fateful evening. But Tarantino plays the “what if” scenario, and directs us to a different ending, where the Manson followers instead knock on the wrong door, at Rick Dalton’s house and receive a reception they didn’t expect.
And here’s where we get the grisly violence that usually characterizes the films of Tarantino. But otherwise, the celebrated director seems to spend most of his creative energy trying very hard to make the sets look authentically 1969. Yes, plenty of vintage cars on the road, and old television programs, nostalgic pop music on the radio, and an abundance of 60’s fashion.
And yet, with all that labor of love in providing the proper setting, the dialogue seems listless.
The film meanders without a plot for the entire first half, and when we finally find some direction, we end with a misdirection. It’s the kind of mess that won’t enamor most moviegoing audiences, though certainly the cinemaphiles will applaud the unique Tarantino creativity.
I hope they all had a lot of fun making this film, because it wasn’t that much fun to watch.