Once Upon a Time in America Screen 4 articles

Once Upon a Time in America

1984

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  • As Noodles steps into the tomb, Leone's camera makes endlessly, possibly pointlessly, choreographed long maneuvers, and the music swells, turning its soapiest. Here was a filmmaker who specialized in pure, blistering images, and this operatic earthiness just doesn't play as well as the horrifying, salacious stuff.

  • Once Upon a Time in America begins and ends in an opium den; everything that happens after this point in the non-linearly-presented timeline may be a hallucination. Besides introducing this narrative ambiguity, De Niro's stupor mirrors the viewer experience. America's pacing pleasures are narcotic, creating a strong sense of time passing, crucial for endowing the final flashback montage with recalled resonance for patient viewers. Crudities and all, America earns its scope.

  • At its worst (the middle hour) it's uninspired gangster scrapes, and the childhood scenes - which I used to think were the high-point - clearly suffer from some bad juvenile acting, but the overall sense of elegy still (just about) carries it. Funny how De Niro's inert performance was acclaimed as a revelation at the time, whereas now it's just the same grumpy middle-aged guy he's been playing for the past 15 years.

  • Did Leone make a genuine masterpiece or simply the most Proustian gangster movie ever? ...Seen today, this rise-and-fall chronicle will make you nostalgic—not for the days of New World shtetls and Borsalino-wearing bad guys, but for an era when giants walked the earth and made excessive epics with scope, substance and a true sense of cinematic grandeur, once upon a time.

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