Director Sergio Leone (The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Fistful of Dollars), famous for his spaghetti Westerns, takes a stab at his own version of a Godfather-like film with his 1984 film, Once Upon a Time in America. To help him along Robert DeNiro, who starred in the Godfather films, was his leading man. Though he is working in a different film genre there are still the usual Leone staples: close ups of faces, great soundtrack, excellent cinematography, and the use of slow-motion photography.
The year is 1968 and Noodles returns to his old neighbourhood after a long absence. Everyone wants to know the reason behind why he has returned. He has come back because his former rabbi has informed him that the cemetery is being closed and the bodies are being dug up in order to be moved. Noodles stays in a room over a bar owned by his old friend Fat Moe (Larry Rapp – Betsy’s Wedding). He is suspicious about the reason he was summoned back. Noodles thinks that someone might be looking for revenge.
David “Noodles” Aaronson (Robert De Niro – Goodfellas, Taxi Driver) has been friends with Max (James Woods – The Virgin Suicides, Casino), Cockeye (William Forsythe – Raising Arizona, Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigalo) and Patsy (James Hayden – The First Deadly Sin) for most of their lives. They grew up together in the Jewish section of New York’s Lower East Side in the 1920’s. They all turn to a life of crime which goes from the 1920’s until the late 1930’s.
The early 1930’s was a time of prohibition in the United States and these men made their money off supplying booze to speakeasies. After prohibition ends Noodles’s gang is without a source of income and debates turning to robbery and helping union leaders. During this period tragedy occurs and Noodles has to flee New York.
The tale of these men is told through a series of flashbacks and flash forwards. It is a strong film about friendship, sex, life, love, betrayal, dreams, ambition, glory, and fate. Filled with plenty of dark moments this epic is one of the best films on the mafia ever made.
Leone is masterful in his creation of a filmed filed with atmosphere, mystery and suspense. Woods and De Niro turn in great performances. The way he tells the story is riveting and keeps you glued to what’s happening on the screen until the very last moment.
Ennio Morricone (The Untouchables, The Mission) once again provides a magical score for the film. Over the periods where there is not a word being uttered the music tells the story. He seems to be able to innately understand what his director wants and the overall mood of the films he works on and translate that into music.
It is a film for all (age appropriate, of course), but especially those who are fans of the gangster film genre. It is long at almost four hours in length (make sure you have the time), so make sure you set aside the time and have the concentration strength required.
-Once Upon a Time: Sergio Leone