Once Upon a Time in America ★★★★½

Mobsters as children who never grow up, Once Upon a Time in America replaces Sergio Leone's lawless Wild West with the lawless world of organised crime. Following a thematic through-line from Once Upon a Time in the West, we witness individual struggle be replaced with more complex, more corrupt systems. This film is obviously a dream, but not necessarily a dream of one of the characters. This is a fantasy film, filled with moments that make no sense and feel like an exaggerated truth. The mythical rise and fall of these gangsters is a childlike unreality. It is forced storytelling on top of a truth inspired plot, a cinematic distortion of the world. There are moments here of pure cinema, of images and sounds that move you deeply. The lingering, slowly closing door of death. A woman dancing on an empty dance-floor, as a child and an adult. Children running through the streets with iconic views behind them. Through this bleak world, Leone shows us life's long trudge through reoccurring pain. Love, lust, and horrific abuse intermingle throughout the ages. You can remove makeup and still hide everything. Once Upon a Time in America is not Leone at his best however. The nihilistic glee of his westerns justifies his cardboard characters in a cardboard world, but Once Upon a Time in America has a similarly disgusting brutality without such an enticing counterbalance. Still, it's a technical marvel and made complete with a fantastic score. Once Upon a Time in America is an epic film, a gangster fantasy of the beautiful and the ugly, and the sort of story only cinema can provide.

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