On Wednesday, in what may or may not have been a veiled response to all this hubbub around Big Dick Energy, Leonardo DiCaprio shared a photo on his Instagram that sent the internet into a tizzy:
The still is the first look from Quentin Tarantino's even-more-anticipated-than-usual 9th film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Here's what we know about it so far: it stars DiCaprio as Rick Dalton, a washed up former star of a Western TV series, and Brad Pitt as Cliff Booth, Dalton's longtime stunt double, both of whom are attempting to make their way in a Hollywood they don't recognize anymore (go figure). The story is set in 1969 (hence the outfits), against the backdrop of the murder of Sharon Tate, the real-life American actress who was gruesomely killed, along with her friends, by members of Charles Manson's cult. Other stars attached include Margot Robbie, Kurt Russell, Burt Reynolds, Damien Lewis, Emile Hirsch and Timothy Olyphant. Apparently, Tarantino had been working on the script for over five years; it's slated to hit theaters August 9th, 2019.
But perhaps greater than the excitement for the movie in general is the promise of seeing (a noticeably slimmed-down) DiCaprio and Pitt, the two biggest movie stars of their respective generations—DiCaprio is 43; Pitt is 54; both defy the slow march of time to make them less handsome—starring alongside each other in a movie. Because though both had worked with Tarantino before—Pitt, in True Romance and Inglorious Basterds, DiCaprio in Django Unchained—they'd never worked with each other. Or had they?
It turns out a quick google search reveals that the two had indeed worked together before, on a hardly-seen 2015 short directed by none other than Martin Scorsese. Called The Audition, it stars DiCaprio and other frequent Scorsese collaborator, Robert DeNiro, as tongue-in-cheek versions of themselves, who arrive at a fancy hotel in Manila to meet Marty, only to realize they're going up against each other for the same role in his next movie, as a suave, international casino owner (naturally). The 15-minute short, written by the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of Scorsese's The Departed, Terrence Winter, reportedly came with a price tag of $70 million; it was financed by Melco Crown Entertainment Ltd. to celebrate the opening of its Hollywood-themed Studio City Macau Resort and Casino. DeNiro and DiCaprio allegedly received $13 million each to participate, and Brett Ratner, the now-disgraced director, had expressed interest in directing a feature-length version. You can watch The Audition on YouTube, albeit in poor quality.
Is the short any good? Short answer: not really. It's fine: the short depends on a single in-joke—how funny would it be if DeNiro and DiCaprio got super petty over a part in a Scorsese role?—and, once the initial shock wears off, there's not many places for the film to go. There is, however, some Curb Your Enthusiasm-like kvetching between the director and his two muses—in an effort to mitigate the tension, he says they're not so much competing as they are vying, don't they ever 'vie'?—and it's good fun to watch DeNiro give DiCaprio shit about his beard, still in full force here, because everyone kind of wanted to give him shit about that beard. There's also an innate pleasure in seeing these immortals act as vulnerable and flawed and insecure as the rest of us, along with the extra-textual satisfaction that DeNiro and DiCaprio, in making the film at all, don't take themselves too seriously. (That said, nobody on earth would take themselves too seriously if they were paid $13 million to act like they don't take themselves too seriously.)
Oh yeah. And Brad Pitt. He appears in the final act of the movie, when Marty, DeNiro and DiCaprio are strolling through Japan. Marty sends them home, informing them of an epiphany he had, that the movie does not actually need the character he'd wanted one of them to play. But as DeNiro and DiCaprio head to the spa, bickering about the meaning of the word "wrapped," we see Scorsese sitting down with Brad Pitt, who is, as he's wont to be, mid-meal. By the end, it appears that Pitt is probably getting the part.
In a way, the film feels like an oddly fitting meta prologue for Once Upon a Time in America. Both Pitt and DiCaprio have served as Tarantino muses, like DiCaprio and DeNiro have, on far more numerous occasions, for Scorsese. And there is an inherent competitiveness, even if it's projected, between two icons of a similar age, talent and celebrity (although, it should be said that DiCaprio and Pitt are more dissimilar actors than DiCaprio and DeNiro). Fortunately, DiCaprio and Pitt weren't forced to vie for a single role in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, like, perhaps, their characters might be in Once Upon in Hollywood. In the happiest of endings, we get both.