18 01 2011

Once Upon a Time in America

Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone’s 1984 masterpiece Once Upon A Time In America is a nearly 4 hour epic that tells a non-chronological, multi-layered story with both visual and thematic brilliance. Best known for his “Spaghetti Western” films such as A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, the Band and the Ugly and Once Upon a Time in the West,  here Leone uses his cinematic gifts and creates a richly sprawling film that is absolutely enthralling. The story spans some 35 years detailing the lives of a group of Jewish mobsters in New York from their youthful beginnings as street punks on the Lower East side, to their rise in the bootlegging industry during the 1930’s, all the way to a reunion of sorts during the late 1960’s. Even after the enormous success of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather I & II, director Leone somehow manages to stake his own claim on the American crime saga, and does so in grand fashion. The film, which features memorable turns by Robert De Niro and especially James Woods, was originally screened at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival in its intended 229 minute running time, receiving tremendous critical acclaim. Unfortunately by the time it was released in America the studio had butchered it by cutting out roughly an hour and a half and rearranging events in chronological order. Leone was heartbroken by this theatrical version and with good reason; this is an ambitious work of tremendous passion and artistry that demands to be seen in its entirely and with its interweaving, flash-back heavy structure left intact. A tremendous cinematic achievement, and deserving of its place among the best films of its kind including The Godfather trilogy.

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