This movie has a checkered history, having been chopped from its original 227-minute director's cut to 139 minutes for its U.S. release. This longer edition benefits from having the complete story (the short version has h... more »uge gaps) about turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants in America finding their way into lives of crime, as told in flashback by an aging Jewish gangster named Noodles (Robert De Niro). On the other hand, it's almost four hours long, and this sometimes-indulgent Sergio Leone film is no Godfather. Still, it is notable for the contrast between Leone's elegiac take on the gangster film and his occasional explosive action, as well as for the mix of the stoic, inexpressive De Niro and the hyperactive James Woods as his lifelong friend and rival. --Marshall Fine« less
ONCE UPON A TIME - ENTERTAINS, ENTHRALLS AND CAPTIVATES!
Nix Pix | Windsor, Ontario, Canada | 06/12/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
""Once Upon A Time In America" is director, Sergio Leone's stunning tale of organized crime and the destruction it unleashes into the lives of four life-long friends. Robert DeNiro headlines a cast of great talent that includes Joe Pesci, Treat Williams and James Woods. When this film first premiered in 1984 it was 229 minutes. However, the subject matter was considered so violent and shocking, and the pace so methodically slow that nearly 40 minutes were excised for general exhibition, rendering the story line practically incomprehensible. I am pleased to say that this new 2-disc set at last gives us the story as it was originally intended, full of robust characterizations, enthralling action sequences and filled with the sort of memorable moments that have reminded me why we all go to the movies - to be entertained (not overwhelmed with way-too-many, ultra-slick digital effects!).
Warner Brothers 2 disc set does have its drawbacks. First, the movie itself is spread over two discs and, there is no polite way to say it, the interruption is obtrusive. The break happens right in the middle of a crucial scene. Interruption aside, the DVD is marred by considerable film grain and a bit of digital grit that make most of the images digitally harsh instead of creamy smooth. Many scenes offer remarkable clarity and depth while others, mostly night time or dark scenes suffer from a loss of fine detail that disappears into a haze of undistinguished muddy blacks, browns and blues. Edge enhancement, pixelization, shimmering and aliasing are present throughout the transfer, sometimes distractingly so. The audio is remixed 5.1 and is strident and lacking in tonal bass.
Extras: Pretty much a retrospective and audio commentaries. Some toss away stuff. That's it, that's all!
BOTTOM LINE: For its sheer mastery in the art of cinema story telling, I recommend "Once Upon A Time In America". The transfer leaves something to be desired but hey, it's nice to have this American classic back in the spotlight and, finally, in its full running time."
A magnificant opium dream of a gangster epic
Craig Bleakley | Normal, IL USA | 05/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Okay, a four hour gangster movie is not going to be everyone's cup of tea, especially when the pacing is absolutely glacial and DeNiro and Woods aren't on-screen for about half that time because of a childhood flashback that's longer than some full movies. But, if you take this movie on the terms director Sergio Leone sets, it's a richly rewarding cinemeatic experience. I've heard the film described as "an opium dream of a gangster movie" and the pacing seems to justify such a response. But it's slow and richly detailed, and a little odd at times, for very good reasons that pay off in spades by the film's emotionally titanic (though slightly anti-climactic} finale.Despite what can seem like turgidness on first viewing, this film is likely to stick to your ribs and merit repeat screenings. DeNiro smolders throughout, while James Woods delivers a teriffic scenery-chewing performance. The story is friendship (and betrayal, of course)--or is it Romulus and Remus? Greek tragedy, perhaps? Godfather parts 1 and 2 rolled into one film? Yes, and more. And viewers familliar with Leone only through his spagetti westerns are in for a surprise: Leone is a world-class film-maker here, capable of stunning beauty and cruelty, often within the same frame. Does it really need to be this slow? Does the flashback to childhood need to be almost and hour and a half long (don't worry--it's absorbing enough in its own right to keep you from noticing)? Does the the chronology need to be so screwy? Does that darn phone need to ring so long? Absolutely.
Fans of Woods, DeNiro, Leone, or gangster movies in general canot afford to pass this film up. The supporting cast, especially the young actors playing the gang members in thier childhood, is also consistently stellar. Best viewed on a cold wintry afternoon when you've got plenty of time. Opium not provided."
Even in death and DVD Leone still can't get a good edit.
Brent A. Anthonisen | Alpharetta, GA, USA | 09/29/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Once again Sergio Leone proves that he is the master of the classically "American" genre film, this time training his exquisite eye from the Western to the gangster film...gangster EPIC, actually.
This movie takes place via disjointed flashbacks over a period of fifty years, focusing on the life (and death) of crime as experienced by four childhood friends, specifically David "Noodles" Aaronson, portrayed in maturity by Robert DeNiro in another typically inspired performance.
The movie in its American release nearly 20 years ago was absolutely butchered by the US-based distributor, with over an hour of footage removed from the feature in order to make it more managable for US audiences. The result was that the personality of the movie was essentially siphoned off and the film was savaged by film critics nationwide. When the movie was released for cable a year or so later, a fair bit of the footage was restored (and in fact another edit presented the film exclusively in chronological order from Noodles' youth to old age).
This restored version does include as much as the film's original footage as can be accounted for (to our knowledge), and the effect is somewhat more enlightening than the cable edit I first saw (and legitimately loved) almost two decades prior. The violence edited back into the movie makes it more difficult for the viewer to find sympathy/empathy with any of the characters (which may have been a stretch to begin with)...but while the extra features are a wonderful addition to the DVD (James Woods' admission on the Leone bio piece that to this day he is asked what exactly happened in "his" last scene...and to this day he's uncertain himself...is worth the price of purchase alone. And Richard Schickel's film-length commentary track is also a joy to watch/listen to.
But Warner Brothers REALLY dropped the ball by deciding to split the film into two equal lengths for the purpose of placing it on 2 discs; particularly when considering that in fact Leone did make provision for an intermission within 2:45 of the film's original running time. The most obvious issue is that yes, a rather crucial scene was unceremoniously interrupted as Disc One ends and resumed at the beginning of Disc Two. Arguments will be made that this was necessary to include the full-length commentary track for both discs, but even "Pulp Fiction" with a complete running time of over two-and-a-half hours was able to complete the presentation with commentary track on the same disc; you have to believe Warner Borthers could at least have done a better job with Leone's final masterpiece. As it is, the perfect realization of the film that was by all admissions nearest and dearest to the Italian film maestro's heart still eludes him, even in this digital age. Had he lived to see it, he could not have been pleased with this treatment. Nor was I. A terrific film, beautifully and lovingly shot as always, speaking to the emotions of the viewer in a way that so many American directors simply can't pull off...but once again the editors have failed the artist. I own it, and will view it regularly out of respect to its brilliance as a film, but someone should have been sacked over this DVD presentation."
Boyd Baker | Florida | 05/03/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"When "Once Upon A Time in America" was initially released, there wasn't much of a stir in America due to the well-documented excision of around an hour and half of footage. But, on its release to home video, the restored, uncut version was suddenly available to American viewers. Thank God. This is a deeply moving, emotionally-wrenching film that deserves its ranks in the annals of some of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed. Movie lovers will delight in this film from frame to frame. Top-notch performances, extended sequences with attention to detail that rival the best Kubrick films, and plot twists told through inventive flashback sequences make this a movie-lovers paradise. I remember when it first came out, I was mesmerized by it for three reasons. Firstly, when it was released there was possibly never a more violent film than this one, with the possible exception of Scarface. Thus, the action is first-rate. Secondly, the performances were all compelling. One performance that went overlooked, I think, was Tuesday Weld's volatile performance as the damaged and emotionally scarred girlfriend of the equally volatile Woods. DeNiro, of course, holds every scene he's in; there's a great sequence in the film involving crooked cop Danny Aiello and a sick practical joke played on him by the gangsters seeking to influence him; additionally, a young Jennifer Connelly gives a fine performance as the childhood sweetheart of one of the gang-members. Thirdly, the pacing of the film was deliberately extended in several sequences to allow for Ennio Morricone's haunting, melancholic, and most deeply felt musical score. When Morricone's music swells, so collectively do we, and the play on the screen becomes the ultimate tragedy that can never have a happy ending. Some of the visuals of the film are especially striking, not the least of which is the aerial shot of DeNiro lying under a mesh cover on a mattress in an opium den, grinning goofily while he allows the opium to take its effect, and wipe away the memories of his betrayal. Other standout visuals include the shot of a frisbee flying through the air to introduce yet another flashback sequence, the opening sequences of horrifying violence, and a final sequence involving a garbage truck.All of this together creates an unforgettable movie experience, one that will stay with the viewer for a long time."
It is permenantly etched in my memory
Brent A. Anthonisen | 04/10/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've just finished watching Sergio Lione's beautiful, long, violent masterpiece. I've mentioned long , as unlike many others I feel it is one the movie's best qualities. For the 1 1/2 hour flashback, is so poetically realised you can almost smell New York, and by the time the movie is over you truly feel that you have lived their lives. As the movie opens the phone is ringing, and its only after repeated viewings do you realise this symbolic of De Niro(noodles)'s guilt for turning his friend in , and as he belives cuasing his death. It this level of detail in every frame, and the contrast of Ennio Morricon's second best score( after The Mission) with the violence, that make this film experience truly special. Watch it alone, watch it repeatedly, and please stay away from the crime against cinema that is the shortened version. Note:I truly think had this film been released in its full length in the U.S. , it would have beat Ghandi to best picture, and given Mr.Lione a very deserved oscar, but the incoherent shortend version obviously didn't even get nominated."