Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
I finally made it through... Its all over. I've got a lot of thoughts and a lot of questions on my mind, but even with all these thoughts and feelings, one thing is certain.
I am 100% positive I just saw a masterpiece.
I am of course talking about the 4 hour and 10 minute extended version of Once Upon a Time in America. It took me two days to finish it. And not seeing it in one sitting didn't hinder the movie's effect at all. I was just as excited to jump back into these characters lives and feel like I hadn't missed anything. The movie is long, but it never wears out its welcome and surprisingly it was never boring. After an odd start, the movie jumps into the carefree, joyful, and nostalgic lives of 5 young boys living in New York. Over the course of the film you see these boys transform into men with all of the grief, lost love, tragedy, and stress that comes along with growing up. It also doesn't help that the boys get swept up into a life of crime, and eventually the prohibition era gangsters, but they still keep their bond of friendship strong and spirits high. This is a very tender aspect of the film that tugs on your heartstrings all the way until the finale. Being a character driven movie that spans 4 hours, and being with characters throughout their life, it builds a very strong connection between the viewer and the 4 kids you met on the magnificently recreated streets of 1920's Lower East Side. When a character does something horrible, you feel guilt. When a character is double crossed, you feel cheated, etc. This is very rare in films these days. This film will hit you with every human emotion you have. And sometimes it will hit you hard.
These kinds of films are hard to come by in the world of cinema. The soda fountain nostalgia feeling is rarely done well. Scorsese got it perfect in Goodfellas, and it hasn't been beat since. But I feel like Goodfellas owes a lot of that to this film. Goodfellas was brisk, light, and very well paced. This film takes its time but this makes its emotional scenes pack double the punch. And just like every gangster film, the random bursts of violence here are very satisfying and come at some pretty unexpected times. The boys taking a cheerful stroll down the rainy streets of Manhattan while dancing and joking that ends in tragedy is one of the films most emotional moments. All these scenes are shot with a clear and definitive beauty that stands as a totem to what Leone was capable of, technically. His shots can be violent and beautiful all at the same time. The atmospheric cinematography and set design really brought this world to life, and made the film leap off the screen. I wish movies today had the heart and dedication to set design as films back then did.
I think I am going to stop my review here for now. I kind of just spurted out random things, but that's only because I literally just finished the film and if I said everything I wanted to say, I would be here all night. I will save a more refined review for another day. A day where I have a few hours free, and I want to escape to a time and place that is not my own, but I can still feel right at home.