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Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

As boys, they said they would die for each other. As men, they did.

Directed by:

Sergio Leone

Rating: 9/10

Running Time: 220 minutes

UK Certificate: 18

On DVD

Country: United States, Italy

Robert De Niro stars as David 'Noodles' Aaronson, an old gangster who is returning to New York after 35 years in response to a mysterious invitation. He has spent half his life away, having fled the city in fear for his life after having betrayed his friends to the authorities. He did it with the best of intentions, in order to save the life of his friend Max Bercovicz (James Woods), but the tip-off becomes a disaster and results in the death of Max and two other friends. While trying to work out who has invited him back to the city, Noodles indulges in opium-tinged dreams of his life before he left.

When he was a boy, Noodles (Scott Tiler) and his friends would roll drunks and make trouble in their Jewish immigrant neighbourhood. His life changed, however, when he met Max (Rusty Jacobs). Together the two of them and their gang began planning more complex jobs and successfully making money. As they grow up learning about crime together, they also learn about life and love. Their friendship is interrupted when Noodles is sent to jail as an adolescent, but although he is a young man when he is freed, Max is there to collect him. He discovers that his partners have been busy in his absence, taking advantage of the money to be made illegally during prohibition, and for some time he joins in with their business. But prohibition isn't going to last forever, and when it ends Noodles is concerned that Max's next job is a step too far.

Sergio Leone's final film is a cinematic masterpiece of epic proportions, helped along by Ennio Morricone's striking score. The film looks great with its atmospheric settings and absolute attention to all the period details. The cast turn in some fabulous performances, creating characters that are neither good nor evil but a whole range of shades of grey. Leone takes the time he needs to avoid rushing this complicated flashback tale, and the film never feels too long even at 220 minutes. That being said, avoid the shorter edited version of this film – not only is it missing a lot of key scenes, but those that remain are reedited into chronological order resulting in confusion.

It's Got: A fine cast and outstanding direction.

It Needs: To be seen in this extended version rather than in the mangled and confused shorter cut.

DVD Extras This 220-minute version of the film doesnt leave much room for extras with this two-disc Special Edition. Extras: Audio commentary from critic Richard Schickel, Sergio Leone featurette, Photo gallery, Theatrical trailer. DVD Extras Rating: 2/10

Alternatives:

Goodfellas, Once Upon a Time in the West., The Godfather

Summary

Director Sergio Leone's final outing is an epic masterpiece on a grand scale that gets just about everything right.

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