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5 Plot Point Breakdown: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) — Cliff’s Story

By Ken Miyamoto · April 6, 2020

Screenplay Genre: Drama/Comedy

Movie Time: 161 minutes

Beware spoilers!

Note: There are arguably two main story threads within this film. The first is a character study of Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) as he deals with the trials and tribulations of becoming a has-been actor. The second is a more plot-driven story led by Rick’s stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) as his path is intertwined with the Charlie Manson and his cult of hippies that are destined to murder actress Sharon Tate and her friends within her Hollywood Hills house—. We will be following Cliff’s story for this Five Point Plot Breakdown. (Segment Time: Begins at 01:20:23)


After seeing a hippie-hitchhiker named Pussycat sporadically throughout the first hour of the film, Cliff finally finds himself going the direction that she is looking to go. Entranced by her beauty, Cliff agrees to take her where she needs to go. He discovers that she’s living in Chatsworth at Spahn Ranch — a former movie and television location site that Cliff had done stuntwork at eight years prior. Cliff is curious as to why this hippie girl and her friends are living there. (01:21:49)

2. LOCK IN (End of Act One)

Upon arriving at Spahn Ranch, Pussycat coaxes him out of the car and further into the grounds, hoping to introduce him to someone named Charlie (a.k.a. Charlie Manson). As Cliff is introduced to Pussycat’s hippie friends, his suspicion of them grows. He’s worried about George, the owner of the ranch and a former colleague of Cliff’s. He wants to check on George but the girls are reluctant to let him. He decides to take matters into his own hands and approaches George’s house, where other hippies track his every move. After confronting the lead hippie Squeaky, Cliff goes into the house and discovers that George is alive and well.  (01:39:08)


Cliff exits the house and heads to his car as the hippies ridicule him loudly. He then discovers that one of them has slashed his tired. He confronts the hippie guy that did it and demands that he replace the tire with his spare. When the hippie guy refuses, Cliff begins to beat him up. Tensions rise as the whole hippie community approaches him. He threatens to continue to beat the hippie guy up if they come any closer. One of the hippie girls is sent to get Tex, Charlie Manson’s right-hand man, to deal with Cliff. But by the time he arrives, the slashed tire is replaced and Cliff drives off. (01:49:16)

4. MAIN CULMINATION (End of Act Two)

Cliff takes his dog for a walk as he smokes an LSD-laced cigarette. Meanwhile, Tex and three of Charlie Manson’s hippie girls drive up the private street in a loud car to infiltrate the house next door to Rick’s house, home of Hollywood director Roman Polanski and his actress wife Sharon Tate. However, they are confronted by a drunk Rick who scares them off of the private road. The whole film has been leading up to the Manson murders of Tate and her friends and we wonder how Cliff and Rick will be involved in that horrific crime. (02:13:05)


Tex and the girls drive off of the private road and park on the side of the adjacent street. They are starstruck after recognizing who Rick was and decide to murder him and anyone in his house. One of the girls has cold feet and escapes with the car. Rick is listening to music in a drunken haze out back in the pool. His newlywed wife sleeps in the back room. Meanwhile, Cliff is in the kitchen feeding his dog when Tex and the girls enter. However, Cliff and his dog take action and brutely kill Tex and one of the girls. Cliff is stabbed in the leg and passes out. The one surviving girl rushes out back into the pool in a blind and bloodied rage, falls into the pool alongside Rick as she shoots a gun in the air while screaming, and is then killed by way of a flamethrower wielded by Rick.

Cliff survives. All of the Manson would-be murderers are dead. And it’s revealed that the Sharon Tate and her friends have escaped the real-life fate we know they had, once upon a time… in Hollywood. (2:18:10)

Michael Lee has worked in development as a script reader and story analyst for a major studio, Emmy Award-winning production company, and iconic movie director.

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