Friday, June 8, 2007

Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Directed by Sergio Leone. Starring Robert DeNiro and James Woods.

Even with the greatness of the GODFATHER films and GOODFELLAS, this is my favorite organized-crime epic. Leone's sprawling narrative flashes back to various incidents in the life of Noodles (DeNiro), a small-time New York gangster. A quiet and sort of awkward guy, he grew up with the cocky Max (Woods), and together they became involved in organized crime. Now in old age Noodles must come to terms with his life, particularly his decision to rat out Max to the police. Leone, an Italian by birth, had a knack for American iconography, and the film seamlessly jumps back and forth in time, allowing the different stories to unfold while playing them off each other. This complex structure, with its ingenious transitions (the Frisbee, the ever-ringing phone), is completely lost in the truncated version, which was just as disastrous as the long version is transcendent.

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