Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood is Quentin Tarantino's ninth film since he began working as a director in 1991. It is also his most successful, with an opening weekend that brought in over $40 million. (Pulp Fiction was a hit, but it was a sleeper that gained traction, not an opening weekend blockbuster.) And yet, the film is controversial despite its success, with critics complaining about how Tarantino treats history. Considering how many real-life figures there are in the movie, how accurate is Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood? Warning: Spoilers for Once Upon A Time... In Hollywood follow.
Set in 1969, the film centers around a pair of fictional characters, Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Dalton is the aging cowboy star of the now-canceled TV series Bounty Law, which is also fictional, though there were many shows like it on TV in the early 1960s. Booth was Dalton's stunt double on Bounty Law, who now works as his driver, handyman, and paid BFF. Booth is no longer hirable, as he is believed to have murdered his wife and gotten away with it. (The scene of which is reportedly based on the death of Natalie Wood.)
Dalton and Booth may not have existed in real life, but everyone around them did. From action star Bruce Lee to next-door neighbors Roman Polanski and his newlywed wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), Tarantino's 1969 image of Hollywood is accurate to the era.
Some of the scenes are recreations of what life was like. The event the Polanskis attend, with Steve McQueen, Mama Cass, Michelle Phillips, Jay Sebring, and others, is an accurate depiction of those parties. So too is the scene on Spahn's Farm, which recreates how the Manson family lived.
But then there's the ending.
On the night of Aug. 8, 1969, an eight-months pregnant Sharon Tate and four others were killed by three members of the Manson "family". The film reportedly sets up the scene with pinpoint accuracy, including who was in the house and what they were doing.
The car of people who turn up to kill them is also reportedly accurate: Charles “Tex” Watson, Patricia Krenwinkel, Susan Atkins, and Linda Kasabian. It's also true Kasabian chickened out and ran. (She also acted as the key witness in the trial in exchange for immunity.)
That's where the movie veers off of history. Before the Manson kids can kill Tate and her friends, Dalton comes out and yells at them to move their crappy car. Recognizing him from TV, the gang decides to kill him instead of Tate.
Unfortunately, upon entering the house, they encounter Booth and his trained pitbull, the latter of which has not eaten dinner. In short order, Booth murders Watson and Atkins. He blinds Krenwinkel, who runs out into the pool, crashing into Dalton, who grabs his flame thrower and burns her to death.
It gives the film a happy ending. Tate and her pals are safe, and Dalton is invited up to hang out with them, a chance at career revival dancing in his eyes.
But that's just the fantasy of Tarantino's history. The truth was far more terrible.