Once Upon A Time In America * * * * *

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Director: Sergio Leone.
Screenplay: Sergio Leone, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Tuesday Weld, William Forsythe, James Hayden, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Danny Aiello, Treat Williams, Larry Rapp, James Russo, Scott Tiler, Rusty Jacobs, Brian Bloom, Adrian Curran, Mike Monetti, Noah Moazezi, Jennifer Connelly.

Numerous excellent crime sagas have been made over the years and at the top of most peoples lists tend to be “The Godfather parts I & II”, “Goodfellas” and some would even have “Scarface”. Although these are superb inclusions in the genre, this Sergio Leone masterpiece is the definitive and the real classic of them all.

Based on the novel “The Hoods” by Harry Grey we are manificently told the story of David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson (Robert DeNiro) who, after several decades away, returns back to the lower east side of New York city where he grew up with his friends and became prominently involved in a Jewish life of crime. Having loved and lost throughout his time here, he reflects on what was a tumultuous time in his childhood (and young adulthood) and now in his twilight years, longs for answers to a fatal double-cross.

Leone is better known for his spaghetti westerns and brings that same style from the dry barren western plains to the sprawling city of New York. Along with him, is composer Ennio Morricone and his idiosyncratic and masterful musical style. When these two combine their talents you know you’re about to be treated to a wonderful storytelling experience. Just for good measure, throw in the iconic and most prodigious of screen actors in Robert DeNiro and what you have is a work of art. An absolute masterpiece of cinema. A multi-layerd epic that has such depth that it’s yet to be matched. “The Godfather” saga has a similiar magnitude but only over three films. Leone manages to condence his elaborate tale in just under 4 hours. However, the original U.S. release was cut by 88mins, ceasing to make sense, with characters appearing and disappearing suddenly. This would explain why it didn’t fare so well and shockingly wasn’t even acknowledged for any awards. Although compellingly acted by DeNiro, this doesn’t stand as his finest performance, but it certainly stands as his finest film and it’s by far the best work that James Woods has delivered, as well as the impressive supporting cast of Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Joe Pesci and Jennifer Connelly is her film debut. It’s all down to the excellence of Leone though and his stylish homage to the gangster film. It’s long, it’s engrossing and once all the pieces begin to fit together it’s a quite heartbreaking story in it’s telling.

With it gorgeous art direction by Carlo Simi, it’s heartwrenching soundtrack by Ennio Morricone and the magnitude of Sergio Leone’s vision, it’s one of the best films ever made. Sadly it was Leone’s last but a virtuosa one to go out on.

Included in My Top Ten films.

Mark Walker

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