“Once Upon a Time in America” Review ✦✦✦✦✦

7 January, 2018

Year of Release: 1984
Sergio Leone
Sergio Leone, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini
Director of Photography: 
Tonino Delli Colli
Robert De Niro, James Woods, Jennifer Connelly

Synopsis: Prohibition-era epic spanning several decades in the life of a Jewish gangster who commits the ultimate betrayal, leading him back to Manhattan’s Lower East Side where he found friendship and fortune as a young man with an uncertain future.

Once Upon a Time in America Review:

A film of departures and arrivals with an emotional register more comparable to the work of Giuseppe Tornatore or Luchino Visconti than to a Coppola or Scorsese production, “Once Upon a Time in America” has Italian blood running through its veins yet plays out seamlessly across the pond. Driven by Sergio Leone’s nostalgia and guided by Ennio Morricone’s beautifully composed film score, the movie displays a level of compassion and fragility still rarely seen in its genre, utilising gutsy notions of love and honour to explain male impulse, loyalty, and ambition.

Honest about the flaws of its conflicted characters and underscoring rather bitterly the dangers that come with the promise of the free world, “Once Upon a Time in America” conveys pathos beyond words, watching boys become men while preserving the notion of the ‘crime family’ through a clear focus on a particular set of characters. Intentionally elliptical as a troupe of naïve ruffians transform into prohibition-era millionaires, the film purposefully alienates one member of its group, separating him from his brothers-in-arms through cruel, life-altering events that lead to later tragedy.

A movie with two love interests; one romantic, the other platonic, “Once Upon a Time in America” derives much of its sadness from the pain of unrequited love, sending protagonist Noodles down a road of despair as his partner in crime, Max, and his one true love, Deborah, both opt for success over personal happiness. Reflective of Noodles’ memories rather than his reality as it once stood, the film finds emotional poignancy in the space between plain truth and dramatic interpretation, allowing significant events to take place on the same day and leaving Noodles’ would-be lover untouched by time as he utters the words, ‘Age cannot wither her’ from behind a creased brow. Heartfelt and heart-breaking, “Once Upon a Time in America” parallels the said with the unsaid, the innocent with the adult, the long shot with the close-up, as Sergio Leone gives us something to cry about in the aftermath of irreversible loss and unforgotten memories.


Review Date
Once Upon a Time in America