Ever since the release of 1999’s classic Fight Club, Brad Pitt has been a mainstay of Hollywood and one of the biggest and brightest movie stars. Over the past twenty years, he has starred in the Oceans 11 franchise, World War Z, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Moneyball, and many other box office hits. And with high profile marriages to Jennifer Aniston and then later Angelina Jolie, he is truly one of the most dynamic and complex stars in the world.
Which makes his latest role as the simple and cool Cliff Booth even more compelling.
Once Upon A Time in Hollywood, the latest film by Quentin Tarantino is a wonderfully made movie that takes the audience back to the waning days of the Golden Age of Hollywood. The movie follows the has-been television star Rick Dalton, played by the always excellent Leonardo DiCaprio, and his loyal stuntman/best friend/chauffeur Cliff Booth, played by Pitt, as they navigate the changing times in Hollywood in 1969. The movie climax falls on August 8th, 1969, which history buffs and Hollywood fanatics will know as the date of the Manson Murders, when a group of Charles Manson followers broke into young Hollywood starlet Sharon Tate’s home and murdered the pregnant actress and a group of her colleagues.
While the movie has a different take of the horrific events that happened that night, the character arc of Pitt’s Booth is perhaps even more compelling. The stuntman, like his friend and employer, has seemed to fallen out of favor with the studios.
In one instance, Dalton asks Booth to take a look and try to fix his television antennae while he waits to pick him up. Booth obliges, and in one of the coolest scenes in the movie, we are shown a series of flashbacks and memories as he stands on the roof. This is where we first truly get a good look at what type of person Booth is.
The audience discovers that Booth hasn’t had consistent work in the years since his wife’s mysterious death, which most circles believe was a murder by Booth. Another memory shows him and his wife aboard a boat, and she beleaguers him as he stares on. He slowly raises the harpoon gun on his lap, and the memory ends.
Another flashback shows the stuntman taking on and defeating Bruce Lee in a fight between filming scenes, although it’s unclear if this is a real event or just a figment of Booth’s imagination. Either way, it shows the subtle confidence that Booth has in himself.
This confidence is on full display just a few scenes later when Booth picks up a hitchhiker. The hitchhiker is a member of the Manson Family and asks him for a ride home to the Spahn Ranch. Booth, having worked on many westerns filmed out at the ranch, agrees and decides to visit his old friend George Spahn, the owner.
Booth confidently walks around the ranch as he is introduced to the rest of the ‘family.’ In one of the most tension-filled scenes in the movie, Booth forces his way into the house despite the family’s orders not to. He finds George, who has become blind over the years. When Booth gets back to Dalton’s car, he finds that one of the cult members has slashed a tire. He physically and violently forces the man to change the tire and drives away before more cult members show up.
This scene shows the confidence of Cliff Booth as well as the fearlessness. He immediately knows something isn’t right about the ranch, and despite being alone decides to figure it out for himself. He doesn’t back down from the screams and cries from the angry cult members, and simply does what he wants while he’s there.
While the confidence he displays in these scenes may paint him as a cocky or brash man, this couldn’t be further from the truth. He lives an extraordinarily simple life, as he stays in a trailer with his pitbull behind a drive-in movie theater that is the complete opposite of Dalton’s extravagant home in one of the richest neighborhoods in Hollywood. He talks to the television as he watches, as so many people have but won’t admit it.
For a guy who has been somewhat exiled from Hollywood studios and doesn’t do a whole lot besides following Dalton around, he is rather indifferent about it all. He never once complains or gets down on himself, nor does he ever apologize or compromise. Cliff Booth stays true to himself. He refuses to fall into the stigma that the rest of the world has cast on him and continues to enjoy his life as Rick Dalton’s best friend.
Despite his borderline superhero qualities, Cliff Booth is just a normal guy.
An extraordinarily cool, normal guy.