Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Once Upon a Time in America</strong> (1984)

(On DVD, September 2018) There are obviously some grandiose intentions at play in Once Upon a Time in America, from the sweeping title to the expansive running time to the intention of presenting a crime saga throughout the decades. The similarities to the Godfather movies are numerous, and they start with having Robert de Niro play a gangster. You can imagine writer/director Sergio Leone gleefully embarking on this project, wind in his sails from having completed the Man with No Name trilogy and Once Upon a Time in the West. He certainly brings a somewhat… European sensibility to the project, making his protagonist a very lusty lad (there are two rapes in the film, one of them played for laughs) in addition to the usual graphic violence. The film is famous for a decade-long development process and for being incredibly long especially with its preferred director’s cut. (Today, it would have been made as a prestige miniseries). Much of this editing shows—not all of the film is coherent, and the rhythm of the film constantly stops and go. While ambitious, Once Upon a Time in America isn’t quite as successful as it thinks—it’s long, it takes forever to start, it lacks the moment-to-moment watchability and overall control to truly succeed. Missed opportunities and all that.

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