Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - ★★★★★

Director: Sergio Leone
Writers: Harry Grey (Novel), Sergio Leone (Screenplay)
Stars: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Scott Schutzman Tiler, Jennifer Connelly, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello

This movie is more than a masterpiece. It's perfection. It was to me a more emotionally grabbing and stunning film than The Godfather. I used to believe that The Goodfellas was by far the greatest film about organised crime ever made. Once Upon a Time in America trumps them all. It's more than a film with a perfect story, cinematography, music and acting. It involves you in the lives of these criminals and you don't ever want it to end.

This is a film about relationships, memories, and life. It's about a man called Noodles (Robert De Niro), whose story we gets to see unfold like shuffled chapters in a novel. In the beginning we see him as an adult who is in trouble with the law. We then see him as an old man, reflecting on the memories that led him there. Then we see Noodles as a young man (Scott Schutzman Tiler), trying to survive on the mean streets of New York with his gang of thieving friends. All of these chapters in his life make us laugh, cry, smile, cringe, and feel shock. As each piece falls into place and the twist unfolds, we see the full picture and appreciate the poetry of it all.

Robert De Niro's performance is exquisite. Seeing him as an old man reflecting on his memories really touched me. The sadness in his eyes said a thousand words. Jennifer Connelly gave a knockout performance as the little girl he loved as a boy. James Woods gave a gripping supporting performance as a man both crazy, stern, and somehow lovable. Kudos goes to all of the young actors who played members of Noodles' gang.

It's a visually breathtaking film. Some scenes had me asking what Sergio Leone's secret was. He somehow made 'early 20th century New York' and 'late-60s New York' look phenomenally realistic. It was like being transported to the time. The cinematography and costumes really brought me into the moment. Perhaps the most brilliant piece of the film was Ennio Morricone's haunting score. The music made emotions well up inside me, as does so many of his other movie themes. The cinematography, costumes and music collectively were perfect.

I really do think this is the best film about organised crime. While The Godfather and Goodfellas are perfect in their own way, I liked this film better because of its characters. Leone developed these characters so that we got to know them intimately. I've never watched an epic film without feeling that it was a tad too long. Yet Once Upon a Time in America is not too long. It's just right. It's perfect.

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