Max Parsons’s review published on Letterboxd:
What a beautiful achievement Once Upon a Time in America is. Sergio Leone creates an emotional tale about the friendship, crime and betrayal between a group of Jewish gangsters during the Prohibition-era. The film's story spans different decades where the characters are different ages and Leone wonderfully weaves it all together to portray how these characters matured and depraved.
The way in which Once Upon a Time in America transits between different time periods is mesmerizing. Leone immaculately captures this with the cinematography and Morricone's score to make the characters’ story emotionally compelling. The film opens with a mature, old Noodles (De Niro) returning to his hometown after 35 years with it unknown of why he left. The pacing in this segment is flawlessly done to unfold the setting of the story. Once Upon a Time in America then flashes back to Noodles’ youth, and the capturing of the transition immediately feels us with nostalgia. The childhood of Noodles and his friends is quite possibly one of the most beautifully crafted sequences I've ever laid eyes on. I adored every shot of the city streets and the striking images achieved are absolutely mesmerising.
Once Upon a Time in America continues to be excellent throughout; however, I feel that the rest of the film wasn't quite as brilliant as the first act. I’m not saying it fall flats, just that this might be the only thing preventing Once Upon a Time in America from getting a full 5/5 stars for now. In this part of the film, we see Noodles and his friends as slightly more mature men. The betrayal of friendships and deprave of the men is displayed as problems start to overcome them. We learn more about Noodles’ regretful past and the relationship with his friend, Max (Woods). I’ll try not to spoil this part of Once Upon a Time in America, but the way which the film unravels it is immaculate. At the beginning it is a slight mystery to why Noodles feels the way he does. Then, as Once Upon a Time in America develops itself, we discover all the things which confronted Noodles. As mentioned, the whole film is a beautiful journey as we witness the youth, the corruption and sorrow of the characters. The performances from Robert De Niro and James Wood are also great and both achieve to portray their respective character and the changes which occur to them.
Although Once Upon a Time in America is close to four hours long, I was transfixed to the screen the whole time. Leone achieves to develop the whole epic story wonderfully and always displays the characters’ lives perfectly. It would be a delight to see Once Upon a Time in America again to experience and appreciate its brilliance once more (even though the film is extremely long). In fact, I would love to see the restored cut as the film was such a pleasure to watch and I want to see more. I've heard about the extended cut. Although that version is around 250 minutes long, I’m sure that the extension to the film is potentially essential considering that Leone elegantly constructed everything.
Once Upon a Time in America is simply an incredible film. It may be super lengthy for some, but it is a long journey worth going on. Leone stunningly and masterfully pieces the emotional and haunting story together, creating what is possibly one of the greatest films ever to depict crime, friendship and corruption.