Once Upon a Time in America ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

TW: Brief sexual assault.

Sergio Leone is a director most associated with spaghetti westerns so I was more than interested in seeing this because A) It isn't a western and B) It is the last film he made. The runtime (Nearly four hours!) was a little off-putting but I've heard nothing but glowing reviews about it. It is also really interesting to note that he turned down an offer to direct The Godfather so he could direct this.

The film follows the life of a Jewish Gangster (Played by Robert De Niro and Scott Tiler) as he grows up in prohibition era New York.

Despite it feeling incredibly slow, this was epic and masterful storytelling. The first half of the film is more effective as it shows the young versions of the characters growing into men while dealing with the violence of their circumstances. It's also here that the film's themes of friendship, loss and betrayal are superbly set up. Characters are written in an interesting way as they hard to like because of their despicable actions but through the writing they become understandable.

The second half of the film is slightly less compelling and feels like it is where the film drags the most. A conflict regarding who is trying to contact Noodles (De Niro) is a bit predictable but still brilliantly written. It concludes in a fantastically written scene where Noodles is reunited with Max (James Woods) that is so effective emotionally because of how their friendship was shown at the start.

De Niro and James Woods deliver two excellent performances as Noodles and Max. Elizabeth McGovern is also brilliant as Deborah. Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Richard Bright, James Hayden, William Forsythe, Dlanne Fluegel, Larry Rapp and Amy Ryder provide fantastic support. Scott Tiler, Rust Jacobs, Jennifer Connelly, Brian Bloom, Adrian Curran, Mike Monetti and Julie Cohen do great work as the younger versions of the characters.

The highlight of the film was its absolutely gorgeous cinematography by Tonino Delli Colli who does an incredible job of creating a feeling of nostalgia with his shots. Ennio Morricone's beautiful score also adds to this feeling of nostalgia whilst also being very melancholic.

Final thought: Though it is a slog to go through, this was a great gangster epic with fantastic performances. Would make an interesting double bill with Gangs of New York.

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