Once Upon a Time in America: Film # 131 of Film 365

Friday 27th January 2012

Director: Sergio Leone
Year: 1984
Stars: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern, Larry Rapp, Joe Pesci

I was bought Once Upon a Time in America for Christmas on Blu ray. I had asked for it, so it wasn't a bad choice of present. However, I hadn't seen the movie before. I didn't really know much about it until I read an article about the blu ray release in a film magazine a few months ago. The article was convincing enough to make me want to watch the movie, so when I saw that it was pretty cheap on Amazon I added it to my wish list.

After a long day travelling to and from Portsmouth for work (it shouldn't, but it takes 2 1/2 hours to get there and back from Bristol) I figured an evening watching a movie wasn't a bad way to spend my time. A word of warning here - it really does take a whole evening to watch this. It's nearly four hours long. Thankfully I knew this going into the experience, so I wasn't too distressed about it. However, concentrating after 3 and a half hours is tough, however ready you are for the experience.

For the most part, I really enjoyed Once Upon a Time in America. I usually love gangster movies anyway, and the best ones (think The Godfather, Goodfellas...) are often lengthy movies. Leone does a good job of creating a convincing gangster movie, and even manages to evoke different eras by using different film styles. Here, it's always easy to tell if you're in the 1930s or the 1980s. The main story, whilst long, makes sense and is pretty satisfying. My one problem with Once Upon a Time in America is that the first half an hour is never explained satisfactorily- at least, not in my opinion. OK, so you can claim "it's just the mob" (and therefore makes sense), you can read part of the movie as a "dream sequence" (a frustrating cop-out in my opinion, if that was the director's intention) - but none of those readings satisfy me. It's a pity, because the omission of what could have been a 30 second explanation turns a great movie into a frustrating one.

Leone has not created (as one imdb reviewer puts it) a "cultural endurance test" (although the phrase amuses me) - but if you are going to watch this, be wary of the very long running time and some frustrating lack of plot explanations. If you love gangster movies, I think you probably have to give this a watch, and for the most part you will enjoy it. But it's not perfect.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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About Me

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I live in Bristol with my husband Dan (who I married in July 2007), my son Joe (born 2012) and daughter Jess (born 2015). I work at UWE (the University of the West of England) in Bristol as a Research and Open Access Librarian. I'm orginally from Exeter, so moving back to Bristol is a bit like coming home - especially as I studied for my undergraduate degree here (also at UWE). I love travelling and movies, although I get to do a lot less of both since the birth of our children. Although we have still managed to fit in holidays to the Isles of Scilly, Chamonix and a summer in California since Joe was born.