Once Upon a Time in America ★★★½

I just watched the "Extended Director's Cut" of Sergio Leone's last film -- all 251 minutes of it -- and I must say I'm perplexed. If I think of it as a non-linear telling of a story about kids emerging from a Jewish ghetto in Manhattan to become successful mobsters during Prohibition and the fate that befalls them over the course of half a century, it's an overly ambitious failure and the studio was right in trying to untangle and "fix" it through severe editing. However, if I see this as one very long opium-induced dream made up of glimpses of a fragmented past and portents of an imagined future, which Leone himself indicated is a valid interpretation, it is potentially a masterpiece of filmmaking, with each and every frame relevant to the Gordian knot that is its plot.

Either way, Robert De Niro is outstanding as streetwise David "Noodles" Aaronson, as is James Woods portraying his friend and partner in crime Maximilian "Max" Bercovicz. They get lots of support from fellow gang members Patrick "Patsy" Goldberg (James Hayden) and Philip "Cockeye" Stein (William Forsythe) as well as Tuesday Weld playing Max's main squeeze Carol and Elizabeth McGovern as Hollywood-bound actress/dancer Deborah Gelly. Also featured are Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Larry Rapp, Darlanne Fluegel and more. Plus there are adolescent versions of many of the characters, including Jennifer Connelly as Young Deborah.

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