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  • Many people compare "Once Upon a Time in America" with "The Godfather". In my opinion these two movies can't be compared. Both are masterpieces in their own way, but each of them has a different style. You don't compare a Picasso to Michelangelo's Sixteen Chapel either, do you?

    What is it that makes this movie a masterpiece? Well, first of all there is the director. Sergio Leone is a real master when it comes to creating a special atmosphere, full of mystery, surprises and drama... He's one of the few directors who understands the art of cutting a movie in such a way that you stay focused until the end.

    The way the movie was cut is also the reason why a lot of Americans don't think this movie is very special. There are three versions, but only the European version is how the director imagined it to be. He didn't want his movie to be shown in chronological order (1910's - 1930's - 1960's), but wanted to mix these three periods of time. The studio cut the movie in chronological order, loosing a lot of its originality and therefor getting a lot of bad critics. If you want to see this film the way Sergio Leone saw it, you have to make sure you get the director's cut.

    The second reason why this movie is so great is the music. Ennio Morricone, who is seen as the greatest writer of film music ever, did an excellent job. Together with the images, the music speaks for itself in this movie. From time to time there isn't said a word, but the music and the images on their own tell the story. He understood perfectly what Sergio Leone wanted and composed most of the music even before the movie was shot.

    Last but not least there is also the acting and the script. The actors all did an excellent job. But what else can you expect from actors like Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci... They helped making this movie as great as it is by putting there best effort in it. The script helped them with it. It took twelve years to complete, but it hasn't left any detail untouched. The writers really thought of everything when creating it.

    I can really recommend this movie to everyone, but especially to people who like the gangster genre. When you want to see the movie, you better be sure that you will have the time for it. This isn't a movie that is finished after 90 minutes. You'll have to be able to stay focused during 3 hours and 47 minutes, which will certainly not be easy during the first 20 to 30 minutes. Some scenes at the beginning only make sense when you have seen the end of the movie. But when you are able to stay focused, you'll find this one of the best movies you've ever seen. I certainly did and I rewarded it with a well deserved 10/10.
  • ... Directors of all time. Let's start with a story. Many years ago, when your grandfather was still a boy, a failed, beaten-down actor named Clint Eastwood packed up his horse and saddle (speaking metaphorically here), left Hollywood forever (or so he thought) and headed out to Europe to pick up cash wherever he could. He ended up doing a film in Italy for an almost-unknown director named Sergio Leone and an almost-unknown sound guy named Ennio Morricone. The film was (as history would later record) an "Italian Western," that is, as the iconic western drama was all but disappearing in the US, it was being "re-imagined" by Italian writers and directors, and then filmed in Italy, using mainly Italian actors. On the set, Eastwood spoke in English and everyone else spoke in Italian. (Dubbing later fixed all that). Filming now over, Eastwood took his cash and left. Weeks later, in a bar in another part of Europe, he overheard mention that a certain film was the leading box office attraction on the continent. The name sounded familiar but, frankly, during production, a final name for the film he'd just done had not even been selected. He investigated. Yes, this was the film he had just completed, now titled A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. The rest is history. Sort of. Two sequels were done with Eastwood playing the same character. Monster hits.

    By this point the critics began to acknowledge not only Clint, but also the man behind the camera, Leone, who was one of the most promising directors of the era. HE DID THINGS WITH THE CAMERA THAT NO ONE HAS DONE BEFORE OR SINCE, especially his use of closeups, especially his ability to match powerful emotional orchestrals to key scenes. The fourth film in the series, done by Leone but by this time lacking Eastwood, was ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. (Eastwood meanwhile had returned to America as a major celebrity, formed his own production company, Malpaso, and over time became a director as well as the #1 box office star. Over the course of his career, Eastwood subtly voiced his distaste for Leone's work by scrupulously avoiding all Leone's trademark camera angles, even in his westerns!)

    Back to Leone. While he lent his name to a handful of oddball productions, the last passionate work he left behind as his legacy was this film. OMG. What a film. Showcasing not only Leone's talent behind the camera, but also his musical magic as well as his ability to tell a complex tale like no one before him. It was by and large produced in obscure locations in NA, and the performances of the players, especially James Woods, and also de Niro, could possibly rank even today as the best they have ever given. (Also a performance from a young and charismatic Jennifer Connolly that by itself is worth the price of the ticket)

    The film is magical. But here is the catch. Very few people have ever seen it. Even people who "think" they have seen it, really have not. The studio behind the film went berserk when they saw the length and, fearful of losing dollars when they could be changing reels and selling more tickets, they brought in a butcher to shorten it. Now maybe the new editor was not a butcher by trade, but he was sure one by disposition. The late Roger Ebert said that, in his career, this was the most abusive re-edit he had ever seen. The actual film, the one that Leone left, was not seen until years later when the director's version surfaced. It is astounding. It is magical. It is one of the best films ever made. It is a must see.
  • This is, for me, one of the finest examples of cinematic art. It isn't a simple, cut-n-dried 90 minute little package that gets wrapped up with a pretty bow at the end. You get pulled in by the enigmatic opening that unwinds the threads of the story to be found later. For many people having half an hour of purely visual story telling, of stories that are only mysteries at that point, before anything becomes truly linear is difficult to follow and discourages to many people. Our own memories are only snippets that only become linear as we concentrate on scenes from our lives. Once Upon a Time in America is like that as we follow Noodles through the `significant' part of his life - the times that formed him. When the story actually starts, we meet the girl that he always loved but could never have.

    David `Noodles' Aaronson (DeNiro) was a kid on the very mean streets of Brooklyn when organized crime was born in America and he grew into and out of it. That's the simplest synopsis of the plot. The reality is that this isn't a movie about gangsters. Being a gangster is the easiest way for Noodles to survive and get ahead, but it also alienates and ruins his one love. Whenever he is close to giving himself to Deborah he always gets pulled back into the gang, in some form or another.

    DeNiro's portrayal is of a gangster, through and through, who also has a conscience that, while not preventing him from being a ruthless killer, rules his life with regret, remorse and guilt. Leone takes a bit of poet/historic license by showing the Brooklyn Bridge being built in the background (the bridge had been built 40 years before), but it symbolizes Noodles' own growth. When the bridge is just pilings and incomplete towers, Noodles is just forming his future. By the time the bridge is complete, Noodles is nothing but a gangster and the bridge is majestic. When he returns 35 years later our view of the bridge is from under a freeway -- the world has moved along, but the bridge and Noodles are just as they were.

    The length: If you're looking for a brief distraction that you'll barely remember 30 minutes later, this isn't the movie for you. However, if you are prepared and able to be undistributed for the nearly 4 hours that this film uses to compress a lifetime -- you will be rewarded with many facets of thought and examination.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    A few very rich people and a great many very talented people, not least Snr. Leone, invested a great deal of time, talent and moolah to bring this movie to completion. It shows, and the movie is a rich spectacle - but nothing more. No-one should waste their time watching this except to learn how to overspend on art direction. I just want four hours of my life back. Naively, I sat through endless period son-et-lumiére, gratuitous sex and violence, dubious ageing makeup jobs, unrealistic dialogue and nondescript music, hoping that the ending would tie it all together in a satisfying way. Epic fail. It's a bad B-movie plot dressed as The Sting.

    *SPOILER* Noodles (De Niro, wasting his prime - the ridiculous name of the protagonist says it all) returns to New York after 30 years to find he has been advanced a million bucks for a hit, but why? It's Max, (James Woods) his boyhood gang chum that he thought he'd double-crossed and got killed, wanting Noodles to kill him before the real baddies get hold of him. What rubbish; after all, a million buys a lot of secret hideaway. It is so telling that the movie's premise considers a huge sum of money a good enough maguffin to hang a four-hour marathon melodrama on. Mild, ostentatious tedium follows - mystified, Noodles wanders from mausoleum to left luggage office to cold-cream besmeared dancer's dressing room, all the while flashing back to a squeaky-clean 1930's gangland, where we eventually learn that it is a bad idea to call Max 'crazy'. Because instantly he goes crazy, in a piece of character development that probably had the Scooby-Doo writers looking to their laurels. That was said of 'Bugs' Moran, actually - you didn't call him 'Bugs' to his face.

    There's no chance of any such real-life wit or irony in this script. No chance of any reality at all, because the intention seems to have been to make grand opera, so it doesn't matter that a man can be forced to sit in a vat of gasoline (and drink it) yet jump out when rescued as though it were gameshow gunk. It doesn't matter that driving a car at speed into a quay with no-one wearing belts would result in a bloody mess, not male bonding. Grand opera requires grand passion to drive the plot; Noodles' only passion is for looking at length through one of the movies' two terribly unconvincing peepholes at a budding ballet dancer, whom he goes on to rape. As you do; another piece of meaningless quasi-characterisation. Grand opera requires grand symbolism to resonate with people; there is no symbolism in OUATIA, the whole thing is a completely pedestrian display of directorial indulgence. But then, in 1984 we all thought the money would last forever. This movie certainly feels like it.
  • Warning: Spoilers

    Though my favorite genre, having watched dozens of gangster movies dozens of times each, I hated this movie. It shows evidence in practically every part how it tries to be like Godfather I & II yet fails miserably. It's worse than the worse parts of GF III and Mobsters. This is why ...

    I found no reason to care about any of the characters, or want to follow them through the maze of scenes. In GF II we cared so much about Vito and Michael we anticipated every scene. We felt Vito's pain seeing his own mother killed by Mafioso and we so badly wanted to see his own children escape from under the same social threat that we hailed Michael's rise to the top and forgave both their misgivings. This willingness to empathize and forgive was so powerful we watched it eagerly even after seeing essentially the same story the year before in GF I. In 'America' any anticipation comes only from waiting for something meaningful to happen – and the growing disappointment after each scene fails to deliver.

    The main character Noodles has no heart and is despicable: he slunk away after his friends were killed and raped the love of his life. Frustrated or not do you think a Corleone would rape anyone – let alone their loved one? The director also attempts to endear to us the other 4 crewmembers - an impossible task even in 3.5 hours – and fails by forcing likability on them like the scenes are forced on nostalgic backdrops. As children one crewmember chooses a fancy desert instead of using it as currency for a romp with a child harlot, one 3' tall calls a seasoned middle-aged gangster "paisan" and throughout the story another plays a sad tune on the harmonica – likable traits sure, but not nearly enough to leach a single tear as they burn to death in a car while you wonder why.

    Lines and characters are inconsistent, contrived and outright stupid like Wood's girlfriend's minor disrespect causing him to yell 7 times "SHUT UP!". He was supposed to be the strongest and smartest but what kind of gangster needs to yell, or pretend to throw away a girlfriend, to earn respect? When a dying friend utters "I slipped Noodles" Deniro later refers to it as a life defining moment. What a crock. "I made him an offer he can't refuse" or "I don't want to kill everyone Tom, just our enemies" are also simple lines but they elicit respect without a character pushing it on us.

    Mario Puzo was masterful with the way he wove together different eras in GFII perfectly clarifying what era you were watching regardless the scene. Leone's attempt was annoying and confusing. You can blame American editing that Noodles disappears early in the movie - which makes as little sense as his return – but not the mixture of same era scenes that don't even blend - even in the European version. Though much scenery elicited pleasant thoughts of days-gone-by the fact it was shot over 10 years takes toll, the resulting visual effect - exasperated by a lame 60-year long story line - causes you to feel like you're in a different movie in every scene.

    Scenes too are contrived and inconsistent, like a peaceful beach scene where James Woods blows up angrily for no reason that's followed with an out-of-place disturbed seagull flock flying off toward a sunset; a scene which, I believe, is a poor attempt to match the GF II lakefront scene with Frido screaming, "I'm smart, and I deserve respect." The pathetic Frido scene is timely and makes sense, he was being coaxed to come clean, he was weak and stupid, and it showed Michael's resolve to stay in power – even when faced with familial betrayal. The Wood's scene, hell most of the movie, comes across as a ridiculous concoction of mob flick and Chris Cross music video.

    I was so mad I bought this movie that I had to watch it three times to try to understand why it was made that way and why I hated it so much. As a writer I wanted to make sure I never ever create anything so bloody terrible. Many mob movies were made in the 80's because America loves them – but this one is the worse attempt of all to capitalize on that market. You will never love it like you loved GF, not even close – trust me.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    If you like Leone's films from the 60's like The Good the Bad and the Ugly, For a Few Dollars More and Once Upon A Time in the West, then you may be in for a shock if you expect a similar film in Once Upon A Time in the West.

    This is the first film Leone directed in 13 years from the the last film he directed in 1971 'Duck you sucker'. I don't know what happened to him in his personal life in those 13 years but it shows in this film. A film is in a lot of ways a reflection of the director, his taste, his morals, his emotions. And to me this film was dull, at times disgusting, confusing and depressing. It's nothing like the vibrant TGBU or the emotional For a few dollars more. To me, after TGBU, Leone was on the decline. Even though there were some nice scenes in Once upon a time in the West (especially at the end), the story and the characters were lacking.

    Leone's style became more pretentious as he attempted to make more 'serious' films. You can see that mostly in the endless closeups of the actors faces while they speak their often vague dialogue. It looks like Leone was trying to hard to be 'deep' and 'intense' to the point where he lost the humanity in his characters and they became his puppets trying too hard to impress us when we couldn't identify with any of them.

    That's the main problem with this film as well. It's hard to care for any of the characters because they are all quite inhuman. The motives of the characters are never really revealed which makes it hard for us to identify with them and we're completely disconnected from them, as they start doing things that make us cringe, like rape, for instance.

    After more than an hour viewing this film, I'm wondering what I'm watching and why. For the most part..I just don't care. There's nothing to draw you in and interest you. Sure the cinematography is nice, the score and the set pieces are impressive. These are the three things that deceive people into believing that they're watching a quality film. A lot of people who like this film are huge fans of Leone and that alone makes them bias. Also the fact that this was Leone's dream project and final film makes a lot of fans of refer to this film as the greatest film that Leone made which to me is laughable. The final reason I can think of why people would like this film is because it's vague. As I mentioned; there's a lot of close-ups on actors faces with a dramatic music in the background. Some people (while viewing these) will think of events that took place in their own lives and be moved by those and feel like it's the movie doing this to them which is not the case.

    It's sad how Leone made one of the best films of all time in TGBU and ended his career with this depressing, long and troubling film. This film is often compared to the Godfather(2) but they have absolutely nothing in common other than the fact that both are 'gangsterfilms'.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I have a rule, if a movie goes past that 2 hour range it has to be really good. 3 hours, it must be epic, and 4 hours, get the picture. I have this rule because the only thing worse than a bad movie is a bad movie thats really long. This movie wasn't really bad, but was really just OK, and definitely not worth the 4 hour run time (directors cut).

    The back story of how the characters grew up and was good and the plot, sets and costumes made up for the bad kid acting in the first section of the film, but things go way downhill from there.

    First off, the movie is like a ride in a broken time machine. why does the director or editor think its appropriate to jump around from decade to decade? How does that help tell the story? It doesn't, it just makes a long and complicated story very difficult for the viewer to follow (and I had the subtitles on so i didn't miss a word). The dialogue gives the actors very little to work with as Deniro has a blank stare throughout the film. Then there is the timing of the delivery, its like: who is it? [10 seconds later] its me. And I'm left thinking, wtf? Is that extra 10 seconds supposed to be 'dramatic'? Well its not its annoying and in a film this long, you'd think you'd want to keep the action moving.

    There are a few scenes where Max (james woods) is able to show us his ability to act but it happens in a way that makes the story seem unbelievable. I am left thinking, good acting but why would this character behave like that? This guy goes from never robbing a bank, to wanting to rob the federal reserve? its just too stupid, and Max isn't that stupid.

    The love story that develops makes absolutely no sense and is interrupted with other scenes of random and quite disturbing bizarreness. I could go on, but unlike Sergio Leone, I know when to stop. The movie had a good start and a good premise, but the plot went everywhere, too many people did too many things that didn't make sense, none of the characters are electrifying, and the film is just waaay too long to be enjoyable in spite of all of that.
  • This movie was a masterpiece. It ranks as one of the very best in film history, if not the best. At Cannes people yelled and screamed, couldn't believe just how good it was. The profound atrocity was a combination of two completely brainless acts, the first being Zack Stienberg's hatchet job for US release, supposedly requested by either Warner Bros or The Ladd Company (one blames the other now) and the second was the lack of anyone (and everyone)to post anything in this great film for Academy Award consideration, of which probably as many as 14 nominations and 4 sure- fire Oscars went down the toilet.

    These atrocities were perpretrated, I believe, with two reasons in mind, the first to preserve the dim hope of "The Killing Fields" (Daly & Semel's baby) of garnering any awards... and second, to try to boost up the non- foreign chances. Warner Bros knew just how good it was, that goes without saying. The problem was... they already had their share of cash cows and they wanted a real star- studded showpiece to point at. The small minds already had their showpiece but, alas, it was an "eye- tallyan" flick with a producer/director who didn't communicate well. The hatchet job was carefully planned, I believe... the so- called "sneak preview" was done in Canada and not well received, probably due to the fact that the sound system was over- amped and the film 'broke' 3 or 4 times during the showing, what a farce! The awards snub started with the GGs and carried right thru. What a myriad of stupid and utterly pointless decisions! Must have literally tore Leone's heart out when he learned what they had done.

    Morricone's score was a sure- thing Oscar, no question about it. DeNiro and maybe even Woods would have fought it out for best actor, Tuesday Weld as supporting actress, any one of 4 or 5 other supporting actors & actresses, most notably William Forsythe, cinematography, film editing, the list goes on & on... (best picture...Amadeus???? give me a break!!) Just what in the hell were they thinking?

    Saw it in a theater 20 years ago and then again on TV about 1998 and finally in its correct format(on DVD) about two years ago and again last week at a friend's house. Stirred up all those angry thoughts all over again... sorry about that, getting' old & crotchety.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    Another piece of crap to go join Bad Santa in that funerary pyre. This flick's not only trash--it doesn't have any redeeming features--but it's also offensive to Jews. I'm not Jewish--rather an agnostic, even if Catholic by upbringing—but I feel insulted as if I was one, as judging for what you see here you'd think all Jewish men are murderous, predatory pricks who don't know what loyalty or friendship is--and that their women are nothing but shallow and opportunistic whores. I think the roots of this disaster of a flick may be traced to some penis envy syndrome in Leone who, watching how popular Coppola had become with The Godfather, felt the inevitable "Me Too" reaction. That added to the habit of overdoing cruelty when making his Westerns flicks, which we accepted as long as that just happened in some imaginary Neverland, in a mythical West, not in our everyday world. But he didn't see things that way. For him a Jewish neighborhood in NYC in the 30s is just as good as any frontier town where El Manco shoots dead half the pop. without raising an eyebrow. And to think he refused to direct The Godfather because he had this dreck in mind...

    Now, the costumes and the settings are superb here and the Morricone soundtrack out of this world. Also, the acting overall is mostly appropriated--even if I'm not a great De Niro fan, who at least here I consider self-conscious in an egocentric kind of way—-but that isn't enough to save the tripe. The cinematography is uneven: too many superfluous long shots and meaningless close-ups of De Niro's mug (there was some clause in his contract demanding this?)or shots that don't do anything but serve as padding--as those panning the mausoleum's ceiling after he gets inside it. As for the editing, it seems as if Leone and his Editor had found themselves with miles of film cut in countless segments, and had forgotten where they left their sequential order, and that they had finally lost patience and randomly glued everything together. I say that because the story goes backs and forward along Noodles' time line with scenes being put together without any order, coherence, as if they were just lying there and they had to go somewhere in the movie. When you add to that the many inane, superfluous sub-plots you are looking at a disaster of a movie that can make Gigli a masterpiece by comparison--I mean, what purpose serves Treat William's subplot? And the scene of Carol trying to guess the man who raped her—just for the fun of it!--or Noodles' smoking dope with the Chinese?

    The Godfather is such a great film because it totally embraces, from the Italian POV, the immigrant experience in the U.S. in the first half of the XX Century, of which only part is the mob's birth & growth. Such community appears to our eyes as a real human group, in which a complex web of relations, rituals, conduct codes, has developed along the years for self protection--something considered necessary to fight the racism and poverty they found in their newly adopted land & which was established following the traditions of their European ancestors, in the form of tightly knitted societies ruled by semi-feudal overlords. But you won't see the Jewish equiv. here. No visible community, no scenes of families at the dining table, no wise elders; just some isolated scoundrels and murderers (And see how well these "street urchins" look; how well fed, groomed, dressed. That's just bad movie making).

    If you think I'm exaggerating, let me put this way: this is the only flick I have seen where the only way men know of declaring their love to a woman is by raping her. And the worst part of it is, sometimes the woman likes it! This is also a movie featuring the basest kind of characters. You won't find here a single one you"ll like, as they all are equally repulsive. What says a lot about the mindset of the filmmaker is that the only 2 people for whom you may feel any sympathy are killed at the beginning--Eve--or shortly after--the little kid. So, Leone is sending us a message here: this one is not about people he likes, not even about people towards which he's indifferent, but people he considers abhorrent; the bottom of the human barrel. It can't recall any other movie were people were portrayed in such an ugly fashion. Romero's Day Of The Dead maybe, but even in it people kept some ethics, principles, even if deviated ones. Not even that we got here: Noodles and his friends are nothing but predators who you'll expect at any moment start shooting or stabbing each other. That was my expectation every time Noodles and Max embraced.

    I all, not even worth a Library checkout. If someone tries to lend it to you, punch him in the nose. BTW, the scene of the garbage truck is a premonition: there's where all OUTIA copies will end up.
  • I've seen a lot of great reviews for this movie, along the lines of, 'it's great, one of the best of all time', etc. I really have to disagree. This movie was just too slow for me to sit through. I am usually a great fan of Sergio Leone's work, and I love most things with DeNiro and even James Woods, but I just couldn't sit through this movie.

    The pacing wouldn't have been a problem if the story were better, but I felt that it just meandered through a lot of scenes and recollections that were unnecessary. Some of the comedic scenes, for example between the 'young' DeNiro and Woods characters and the cop, were too slap-sticky and didn't ring true. those scenes would've been more in place in an Italian movie, perhaps like 'yesterday, today, and tomorrow.' It just didn't ring true for the Lower East Side during prohibition.

    To the people who say, 'if it's too slow for you, why don't you go watch Armageddon or something,' I can only respond that I loved The Seven Samurai, and also the Seventh Seal, two magnificent movies, which were slowly paced but still riveting. Once Upon a Time in America does not stack up to them. It doesn't measure up to the Godfather(s), or even Miller's Crossing.

    A noble effort, visually very beautiful, but guaranteed to put you to sleep.
  • This film is a profound expression of truth regarding friendship and betrayal. Noodles, played by Robert De Niro and Scott Tiler (during childhood), is a simple man and a thug with one credo: you can battle the entire world but you never betray a friend. During the course of this film we experience various pieces of Noodles's life, from childhood, through young adulthood and old age. We learn what happens to his friends, his foes and the love of his life, Deborah. The time span considered is long, including Noodles's childhood shortly after the turn of the century, through the prohibition era, and finally the 1960's.

    The film is about relationships; the many years Noodles spends away from his friends receive only a cursory mention. The film, like life and memories, unfolds slowly and reflectively. Sergio Leone's cuts are long and each scene is beautifully amplified my Ennio Morricone's haunting score. The story is not told chronologically. Instead, the chapters of the story are slowly revealed like pieces of a great jigsaw puzzle. Each delicious piece might make us laugh, or cry, or smile, or feel shock. But, as each piece falls into place, a mystery unfolds. When the final piece is revealed, the true essence of the story becomes clear and a sad and beautiful tapestry comes into view.

    This film is a true masterpiece, expressing a profound statement about friendship and betrayal, with fantastic acting, writing, directing and music. There is a shortened, two-and-a-half-hour version of the film released that is a disaster. It is like trying to understand a jigsaw puzzle with half of the pieces missing. The original four-hour film can be viewed and enjoyed several times and each time the viewer will see something new.
  • Julie Liu5 November 2016
    This film was long, but not in the sense that it is a 3-hour long film and therefore any film that is three hours long is too long, but in the sense that it is an uninteresting story that is dragged out and out and out. It is also full of clichés that try to make Jews actually kind and also physically tough, Italians mafiosos and thugs and of course Chinese docile fu manchus that run opium lairs.

    All these clichés might have been interesting or art 30 years ago, but today we have evolved.

    Bottom-line: this movie serves a narrow band of an audience which is primarily people who were in Hollywood thirty years ago and had a background in Jewish New York City and want to promote it.

    Boring, overlong and nonsense.
  • I concede that the film is well made and quite intricate in its structure (and that it takes time and patience to attempt to come up with an explanation for the unfathomable gray areas in the screenplay). Leone evidently had an eye for detail, composition, lighting and camera movement. I am sure that no-one will deny that the technical side of the film was handled with care and it does show.

    The screenplay is a mess. I expect to be lambasted by angry fans that will claim that I am an unimaginative watcher and would like all aspects of plot and character explained to me instead of having to think and immerse myself. Fine. I also know that art defies easy definition, and that all the best art in the world offers itself up to multiple interpretations. Fine. I maintain that Leone is being wilfully obscure in his attempts to cover up the head-scratch-inducing narrative techniques that he conjures up. He does so by claiming an opium/dream logic: some kind of remembrance of childhood and prohibition (an immutable, fixed past) as well as a progressive imagining (regarding the "future") on the part of the focaliser Noodles as he lies in the opium den. This may not be the case as he could not possibly know of the exact styles, decor and music of the sixties without having lived through them to some extent. So here we have an organic problem with the screenplay: claims to dream logic to confuse and inspire debate regarding the plot's many unsure points (e.g. was that Max in the dumpster? How Why? What does that wry smile at the end mean? Etc. Was it all a dream of the past and possible future?) counterpoised with the impossibility of this evident in the physical and cultural environment presented to us in the visuals. This, to me, is just vague and sloppy. It is not just a case of great art being unfathomable, it is a case of sloppy art trying to be unfathomable. Take that incessant telephone sound and its related imagery. Did Leone himself know what effect he was trying to achieve when he put it in there? I would say yes in one respect: in order to mystify his audience. I do not think that it stands for much more than that. Perhaps also to establish the confusing and ultimately untenable nature of the film's time structure (he is literally 'calling into the past') and it's relation to Noodle's 'dream' (which the film quite clearly can not be).

    Also, the film's attitude towards women is just plain nasty, containing two of the screens most unapologetic rape scenes. We could claim that it is merely the nasty attitude of our enigma focaliser Noodles. He most obviously is not a very nice guy when it comes to women and the film does present itself as an exploration of his singular consciousness (if it is a dream). To put it crassly: he is nasty to women so the film has also got to be nasty to women if it claims to be deeply related to his attitudes and point of view. If it is a film of dream and imaginings, then certainly Noodle's dream is mutable (as we know all dreams are) and what he 'does' to the characters played by Tuesday Weld and Elisabeth McGovern is heightened by his desire and imagination. This is the only way in which to explain why Tuesday Weld's character seems to enjoy rape, that it is Noodles imagining her enjoying the rape. This is vague, but it at least validates the epic romanticization that pervades this ugly world (of which rape is only a part) when the main character is an absolute lout: it is him who romanticizes it. This is a sneaky way around a touchy subject. But, as has been established by many, this world may not be a dream- back to that inconsistency in the plot. Is it? Isn't it? If not then there is not much of an excuse for the rape sequences.

    The dialogue is also slightly off, too often it sounds stiff and mechanical, and it is too self-consciously scripted to sound like naturalistic street parlance. Ennio Morricone's score is alright. It is evocative in places (when he sticks to the minimalist piano melody) and far too saccharine in others (that pan pipe stuff I find grating and kitsch).

    So to be sure, it is a complex film. It is a rewarding film. It requires more than one watching. It falls far short from a masterpiece, though. Too inconsistent when it should be incisive. It bears the marks of a troubled production and evidence of Leone himself not quite knowing what to do with the beast he had created.
  • It is high time that American critics and fans alike start to debunk their unquestioned, sloppy veneration of films like Sergio Leone's 'Once Upon a Time in America'. The checkered history of this opulent film (and the grand, fanciful myth associated with it's production and many versions) belies its mediocrity on a narrative level. The film lurches backward and forward in fits and starts, its central figures adrift and seemingly out of place surrounded by the ersatz decadence of towering sets, the minutia of production detail and the, by 1984, cliche'd but gorgeous cinematographic confection on offer to the audience. The plot's time frame is confusing, gimmicky and laboured, leading some critics to imagine the Noodles figure's opium binging to be the antecedent of some future 'dream reality' as well as the sepia-toned remembrances. This ham handed, overly fan boy-apologetic interpretation glosses over the glaring narrative irregularities on display. Even at this full (?) running time, figures appear and disappear with alarming suddenness: the Deborah character is fleetingly established in child form, a cold and unattainable 'trophy' female, not even hinting at the gravity with which she will re-establish her relationship with a post-prison Noodles, the said re-union henceforth rings completely false. The deadening pace is somewhat to blame, certain sequences drag along stagnantly for far too long, signifying very little, hinting at a director with so little restraint and narrative economy that he often feels obligated to usurp every iota of screen time possible in order to show off his production, fatal for a film that contains figures so sullen and aloof. The trajectory of the figures' lives is presented to us as a microcosm mirroring the historical trajectory of America's teens through prohibition and its spoils, ending with the (arguable) ruin of its moribund central figures (save Deborah- a make up department fumble or intentional one wonders). This notion is commonplace, even banal. The cast of characters as imagined in the one note script (written by seven Italians no less) are flatly and awkwardly played by all but the younger actors, who at least venture a few variant facial expressions. This is understandable given the almost unworkable material. Some critics state that the characters may seem so impenetrably self-absorbed, but actively seek their own goals, assuming the compliance of others (e.g. when Noodles gets out of prison, Max picks him up and offers him a hooker without asking him whether or not this is what he desires and later makes deals assuming Noodles will comply). This explanation of their abrupt, abrasive dispositions is unsatisfactorily extraneous and merely serves to highlight the complicated ends the films unwavering supporters will go to to defend their positions regarding a film unfortunately short on sense. Although Ennio Morricone's score is much revered, it is undeniably schmaltzy and repetitive, it gushes with an emotional redolence that the scenes themselves, many violent, just do not warrant. At points it is questionable whether or not Morricone was watching the same film I was so incongruous is his work. As a paean to American Filmmaking, it succeeds in terms of mood (helped by a few strokes of masterful editing segueing between time periods) and visuals (not helped by said score) but lacks narrative cohesion and fluidity.
  • I'm familiar with most of the great gangster movies that have come out, but I've never heard of this title until recently. Well, I found why I've never heard of it -- the film is long, boring and disappointing. Somewhere in there is an interesting story, but "Once Upon a Time in America" does not tell that story.

    Basically, with flashbacks occurring here and there, the movie follows a group of kids in their journey from young hoods to adult hoods. However, "Once Upon a Time in America" is too long, too disjointed, the story is not compelling, and the acting in the early parts of the film is atrocious (especially the child actors). A large part of the problem with the movie is Sergio Leone's directing style. Leone loves long stares and glances and wide panoramic shots, and unlike in his westerns, this style simply does not work here. In Leone's westerns these long sequences effectively built up tension while here they are just boring cinematic filler.

    It seems that Leone lost objectivity in editing because a lot of scenes drag on unnecessarily, making the nearly 4 hour running time seem twice as long. In the first hour alone there's more than 5 minutes devoted to a scene of a 12-13 year old girl dancing ballet while a young Noodles (the main character) secretly watches. Did this really need to be 5 minutes? The point is made in the first minute -- she's a beautiful young girl and Noodles is in love with here. Why stretch it out for another 4 minutes? There's no point to it unless you like watching young girls ballet dance.

    Soon afterward we're treated to a another 4-5 minute scene of a little kid eating pastry while melodramatic music gushes in like its some sort of pivotal scene. It boggles the mind why stuff like this was not edited down -- it doesn't move the story, its not cinematic and its not even acting, its 4-5 minutes of a kid eating cake.

    Lastly, whereas a movie like "The Godfather" comes across as realistic and believable, "Once Upon a Time in America" while ostensibly gritty and realistic is anything but. Certain events in the story are completely unbelievable and hard to view as anything but fiction, which is not an asset when you are making a hard, gritty gangster movie.

    If you like long 4 hour movies I guess this is for you, but to anyone else I would say that there's a good reason this movie has largely been forgotten, so proceed at your own risk.
  • Once Upon a Time in America is Sergio Leone's epic tale of the lives of four Jewish gangsters in New York City. The period spans decades, ending in the 1970's, but focuses on three periods - the childhood of the gangsters on the Lower East Side, their young adulthood and the old age of the survivors.

    Before watching this movie buy some super-glue. Next glue your butt to the chair. This movie moves slower than molasses. Each and every scene is so bloody long drawn. I could not watch it beyond 21 minutes. The movie starts slow. It remains slow. Ever scene is stretched out. If you are not a fan of such movies then I will advise you to stay away from it. The duration of the movie is 3 hours 49 minutes. If you must watch this movie then I will recommend you increase the speed to 2x.
  • Oh my gosh. This makes all the IMDb ratings irrelevant. Scene after scene is boring, predictable and statistically obvious. Just another boring mafia movie with the exact scenery and set design that you expect with the forced Jewish presence that Hollywood drives anywhere and everywhere it can added as a (opposite of) bonus. I mean, just like Driving Miss Daisy or Blues Brothers or what have you Hollywood must add a Jewish dimension to green light a movie. Watching this three hour long film made me realize Star Wars is a more realistic story than this film which would never happen in America or anywhere else.

    Sorry but I have to be frank here.
  • Once Upon a Time in America is Sergio Leone's epic tale of the lives of four Jewish gangsters in New York City. The period spans decades, ending in the 1970's, but focuses on three periods - the childhood of the gangsters on the Lower East Side, their young adulthood and the old age of the survivors.

    The protagonist, in a manner of speaking, is Noodles (Robert DeNiro), who along with Max (James Woods) calls the shots for the gang. The story focuses on their odd friendship and their relationships with the other gangsters (William Forsythe and James Hayden), and with Fat Moe (John Rapp), a non-gangster friend from the neighborhood.

    Watching Once Upon a Time in America is a very strange experience. Director Sergio Leone directs with the same eclectic, erratic style he employed in his better-known `spaghetti westerns' starring Clint Eastwood. The result is an exquisite, ridiculous movie.

    At least it's a thing of beauty to look at, and this gets you half-way there. At times, the movie has overwhelming visual impact -- when Leone films the actors close-up, they look like portraits painted by the Great Masters, and in wider shots he frames the actors so that they interact electrically with the locations or sets. And the sets are themselves beautifully produced - his reconstruction of the Lower East Side, for instance, is vivid and incredibly detailed. It's all wonderful to see.

    Leone also skillfully uses music to set the scene and convey emotion. True to form, his melancholy theme music is hard at work in the movie, and it performs yeoman service. Now and then he trips up, however -- his trademark use of pan-flute solos is even weirder here than in the spaghetti westerns, and, to be frank, when the Beetles song `Yesterday' popped up at one point, I laughed out loud, so out of place was it, so cloyingly sentimental. For the most part, though, Leone's characters are amazing to look at, set in vivid backgrounds and propelled forward by terrific music.

    Unfortunately, the plot and the writing are terribly clumsy, and so the movie does not make it all the way to the status of a great film. It's a bridge half built, which can be more frustrating than no bridge at all.

    Actually, the movie's premise is intriguing at first, and the fatuous dialogue doesn't get in the way too much. Noodles has been driven out of New York and has lived in exile, hiding for more than 30 years until he receives a mysterious invitation to return to New York for an unknown reason. But the screenplay itself is a toxic brew of histrionics and adolescent bravado, with an almost comically-exaggerated sense of its own gravitas. It was clearly written by a staff of writers, and what's even more clear is that all of them spoke English as a second language. The movie is reminiscent of a story written about adult life by a teenager -- it is not nearly as deep as it thinks it is.

    Troopers all, the very talented actors weather the implausible situations and hokey dialogue as best they can. As the hours roll on (I watched the four-hour long `director's version'), and the story marches toward its unsurprising conclusion, the viewer begins bracing for this with a mixture of dread and relief. At the end, the disappointment is all the more palpable because the cast, sets and cinematography are so good, and some of the initial scenes held great promise.

    The fact that the movie is itself mostly about rough people is absolutely no excuse for any of this, as Martin Scorcese's phenomenal Goodfellas readily proves. Likewise, the fact that the movie is set amidst a haze of opium at certain points is even less excuse for shoddy characterizations . The simple truth is that the movie is trite and makes little or no sense, long version or short.

    Leone assembled an impressive cast of young talent to act out the story of Once Upon a Time in America. As mentioned, most of them try very hard to make the fatuous story float, and some - particularly Woods and Tuesday Weld as Max's sometimes-moll - are terrific. DeNiro himself is strangely out of place and not terribly convincing as a Jewish gangster, although he is good in his scenes from the 1970's. Elizabeth McGovern does what she can with the role of Deborah, but it's probably the worst-written role in the movie, and again her strongly-Celtic face doesn't exactly conjure images of a first-generation Jewish immigrant.

    Received opinion has it that Once Upon a Time in America is a great movie, possibly because it is a very long gangster movie (like those other ones), or because it was an epic work of passion for Leone, or because DeNiro is in it (again, like those other gangster movies), or maybe it's a combination of those elements. But here, as is often the case, received opinion is mistaken. Once Upon a Time in America is a mess, though an often-beautiful one.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I have now watched this film twice in my lifetime and still cannot understand why it is deemed "a classic". The opening scene of a murder and search for the films main character Robert DeNiro as "Noodles" is reminiscent of Sergio Leone's openers for his "man with no name" westerns, but the thing that even sinks this interesting beginning is an annoying telephone ringing, that rings for about 3 scenes at least for 3 or 4 minutes before anyone answers it and the piercing noise of this phone only makes you irritated, I really couldn't wait for someone to answer it.

    So right off the bat I am agitated with the movie, to paraphrase the rest of the film's first 3 hours and more annoyances and perverseness. I ask these questions:

    • Do we need to show a young girls (Deborah) naked breast and behind, played by 14 year old Jennifer Connelly?

    • Do we need to see a teen boy sitting on a toilet, or groping a buxom teenager in the same bathroom?

    • Or losing his virginity to the same girl on the roof of a building.

    • Or statutory rape of the child by a police office at least 40 years her senior.

    • Then we have an uninteresting character named Moe whose face was beaten to a pulp in the opening sequence, fully recovered and owning some bar in 1968, played by one of the worlds most boring actors (Larry Rapp) in a cast of boring actors. Question: Why couldn't it have been the "Moe the bartender" character from the Simpson's instead?

    • We have to put up with a rape scene of "Deborah" now full grown and portrayed by Elizabeth McGovern, by her childhood "sweetheart" Noodles (Robert DeNiro) who is supposed to be the "Good guy". Why does this scene need to go on and on?

    The rape scene takes a good 2 or 3 minutes to transpire and when he is done, he rips off her top and rapes her again without any regret. The scene is so vile and repulsive it makes the Jodie Foster rape scene in THE ACCUSED look like a gentle kiss on the cheek by two friends.

    Has Leone ever heard of the expression "less is more"? We can learn a lot with only a few seconds devoted to a subject rather than the entire act being played out in all its disgust.

    Now the pacing, the pacing is so slow and tedious without any real sense of awe or marvel. Why take so long to uncover something as mundane as a crypt where we already know that the 3 buddies of "Noodles" are kept? I was half expecting James Woods to be sitting atop his casket saying "thought I was dead didn't ya?" with all the time it took Deniro to walk in the darn door, the door that he seemed to open then close then open again then look at the names on the graves then close the door then get the key. Why does this scene take so long? What was the point?

    I found myself asking this question about almost every scene. Throughout the film.

    The pacing is just so slow and non revelatory in any real eye opening sense that it just leaves you frustrated.

    This movie is neither a classic nor even a good gangster movie, all the good things he did that made ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST so great he doesn't do here, and one of the major things he failed to do when casting great actors like DeNiro and Woods (all the other actors are awful) is give them interesting characters to play or interesting things to say. Heck even a narrator could have helped me out here.

    And Burt Young? Why Burt Young? Does anyone even know how this guy achieved an acting career? I had to rewind a few times just to understand what he was saying when he was telling that joke in the restaurant.

    In a scene where the 4 Jewish gangsters rob the diamond merchants; All I could think to myself was that Guy Richie did this scene so much better (obviously Richie was influenced by this scene) in the movie SNATCH.

    Then during the heist Noodles rapes Weld's character who is I guess a masochist? This is basically done to set up how he treats women he actually cares for, like Deborah who he rapes in the limo as listed earlier. Oh that's correct the man was in prison, I forgot.

    And what the hell was that about the 4 friends whipping out there dicks for the Tuesday Weld character to measure with her eyes? I thought a porno was gonna start happening. I could hear the "Dun-chicka-dun-dun" music in my head somewhere.....

    This movie was dull, non revelatory, brutally shocking in many places for no good verifiable reason and humorless, even when the 38 different writers that are listed in the credits tried to be funny. OK there are not really 38 writers more like 6.

    All in all this movie was a waste of 4 hours and should have been edited down to 2 and even then nothing could save it from being boring, filled with wooden performances by B movie actors, a bad score, anonymous background noises, phones ringing seemingly forever, pointless rape sequences, women treated with the utmost of disrespect and did I say Burt Young? Well Treat Williams and Larry Rapp are in this too and THEY SUCK as well!!!

    Give me Millers Crossing, Road to Perdition, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale, The Sopranos, The Godfather and Mean Streets any day!! Heck I would even watch Christian Slater and Richard Grieco in Mobsters again, that Once upon a time in America!!

    Classic?? As in classic over pretentious, unsubtle garbage!!!
  • My only merits for this film are for the principles of camera work, general acting and basic cinematics, besides that, this is almost 4 hours of my life I won't get back, this film drags on so much that by the first hour I felt like I'd spent a full day watching it and on top of that I still had very little connection to the characters and their story hadn't even started. Second hour hit, still nothing, I was almost asleep. Third hour, I might as well have been asleep, the story was still stagnant. As a cinematic story, yes, this is amazing. But as a film, it's like watching paint dry, it just doesn't get going. If you have the time to spare and have nothing better to do or watch then by all means, watch this film, but if you have something better do with your time then please, avoid this film. The length of the film doesn't justify the lack of story or the cinematic prowess, this could very easily have been an hour and a half film.
  • I have seen all the best gangster pictures like Godfather parts 1 and 2, Goodfellas and Scarface (the really old one and the Al Pacino one) and decided to watch this movie again for the first time in twenty years because I read the Leone turned down the chance to direct the Godfather and later on made this movie.

    I just don't understand how this movie is ranked 115 on the all time list of movies on IMDb. This movie is unbelievably boring it is like watching a snail run the 100 yard dash. By the end of the four hours I couldn't care less about what happened to any of the characters. Noodle is dishonourable thug who should have pushed in the back of the truck at the end of the movie. This is a very over rated movie and does not even come close to standing up against Leone's westerns.

    5 out of 10 and that is generous.
  • When I found this tape in my collection, I was astounded that I had missed it when it came out. The cast list reads like a who's who of awesome actors, suited perfectly for a gangster movie. And Sergio Leone directing! Wow! I read several reviews comparing this movie to the Godfather and Goodfellas, and was over the moon to see it. I set my machine up, got ready and sat down. An hour and a half later (I fast forwarded through so much of it) I was dulled to the point of near madness. The cinematography was great, and brilliantly imaged, but literally nothing of importance happened in this entire movie. The characters were unsympathetic with back stories of little to no relevance or interest. The plot dragged on ad nauseum, padded by long close ups of "dramatic" faces staring contemplatively as if they knew something we didn't. Oh they did, and that was that you should go to bed early and skip this one entirely. The few action scenes were few and far between, and the interminable dialog and love interest offal seemed to drag forever. Maybe I missed something, because I had to fast forward through a lot of this movie, something I rarely do, but I just couldn't stand it after the overwhelming pretentiousness of each character's chatter. Worst of all, nothing happened of interest. Nothing. It was as if the movie were made for the sole purpose of getting Oscar attention, without any nod to entertainment value. If you make a period gangster film, make it better than a History Channel documentary. the only redeeming quality of this film was the cinematography and the old cars. Instead, just watch Godfather and then go to a car show.
  • Warning: SPOILERS.

    Viewing the special feature for this film, it's evident that the slashing of this otherwise very long film on its first theatrical release was responsible for the poor initial reception and attendant reviews. Now that the full 3 hour and 50 minute version is available on two DVD discs, I see absolutely no cause for celebration. The slow pacing (the phone ringing sequence especially egregious), witless dialog and most importantly, the wholly unsympathetic characterizations themselves, make me wish I had committed myself to doing anything else at all.

    DeNiro as "Noodles" and Woods as "Max" are the main figures of a close knit Jewish gang of four, their religious background evident solely when they occasionally use a Yiddishism, e.g., "mazel". Otherwise, they kill, rape (apparently Noodles' preferred form of sexual advance whether it be with a woman betraying her husband in a large jewelry caper - Tuesday Weld's otherwise nymphomaniacal Carol - or with a woman he supposedly loves (Elizabeth McGovern's wholesome Jewish "Deborah") or for no apparent psychological reason get high in a Chinese opium den. We have no idea in this film that encapsulates several time periods what Noodles has been doing for 35 years in Buffalo and when we find out the reason he has been summoned back home, it's just simply ludicrous and not credible for words. As for the soundtrack that's been lauded elsewhere, I don't know how many times anyone else can listen to the syrupy "Amapola" tune, but I had my fill pretty quickly. But read your Ebert (four stars no less!) and see what you think.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    I'll just add to what other people said. One. I didn't like the use of Yesterday by the Beatles but sung by someone else because unlike Scorsese, the producers were to cheap to pay to use the actual song. In a movie like this, original music would have been better. Number two, the James Woods' character fakes his death and reinvents himself as a politician and none of his old friends from the neighborhood recognized him as his original person. Also, as great as DeNiro is, he portrayed a Jewish gangster better in Casino but will always look like who he is which is Italian. I can go on and on but I'll happily re-watch the film and add to how not to make an epic movie or you can just watch the Godfather or Goodfellas.
  • Sergio Leone's films are all love letters to America, the American dreams of an Italian who grew up at the movies, who apprenticed with Wyler, and Aldrich, signed himself Bob Robertson, and gave us Clint Eastwood, Lee Van Cleef, Charles Bronson as we know them. Sadly, America didn't always repay the compliment. Leone's were "spaghetti westerns", money makers to be sure, but deemed disrespectful of the great tradition of Ford, Walsh and Hathaway. Many critics and Holllywood insiders called his earlier Eastwood films cynical and violent bottom-line commercial exploitation. By the time that they caught on to Leone's genuine popular appeal, the director had already moved on. And, his Once Upon a Time in the West was damned as pretentious, bloated, self-indulgent: an art film disguised as a Western, the Heaven's Gate of its day. That film's canny blend of pop appeal and pure cinematic genius gradually dawned on the powers that be (or were), and helped give rise to the renaissance of American filmmaking in the early seventies. It is worth noting that The Godfather could have been made by Leone, had he chosen. Leone had been pitching a gangster film that would encompass generations, for a generation or two, himself. Rather than do the Puzo version finally thrown back at him, he waited an eternity, and finally realized this, his last finished project. That ellipse of a decade or so between conception and completed movie is paralleled in the film, itself, by Robert De Niro's ("Noodles'") opium dream of the American twentieth century, its promises, and betrayals. Naturally, Leone was betrayed, once again, himself, by America, and this truly amazing film, with its densely multi-layered, overlapping flashback structure was butchered upon its release, becoming a linear-plotted sub-Godfather knockoff in the process. Luckily, the critics had grown up enough in the meantime to finally get a glimmering of what Leone was up to, and demand restitution. Very few saw it properly in theaters, but the video version respects the director's intentions, more or less. Ironically, Leone had foreseen television screen aspect ratios as determining home viewing of the future, and abbreviated his usual wide screen format for this movie, so this most troubled last project was the first released on video to most properly resemble the true cinematic experience. For diehard fans of the Eastwood westerns impatient with this at first, watch those movies till you want and need more. This will eventually get to you. For art film fanatics who don't get the earlier Leones, travel in the reverse direction, and you will be pleasantly surprised. This is the movie that Leone spent a decade conceiving. It will deliver for decades of viewing to come.
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