Once Upon a Time in America

Once Upon a Time in America ★★★★★

"I haven't had a gun in my hand for many, many years. My eyes aren't too good, even with my glasses. My hands shake. And I wouldn't want to miss."

One of the most important, sprawling gangster epics I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing, Sergio Leone's final film to the world, 'Once Upon A Time In America,' is a true work of art, a sight to behold, a tale so in depth, riveting and engaging that the near-four hour runtime simply breezed by and kept me locked in from start to finish. Every element here is expertly crafted, from the costumes and set design all the way to the aged prosthetic makeup and props. I've scarcely experienced a world that felt so fleshed out, lived in and realized; I didn't want to leave it, regardless of whether it was following the gang as up and comers, their success and achievements during Prohibition, or the inevitability of their actions and deceit decades later, when the truths finally boiled to the surface and secrets were revealed. The cast here is excellent - another fantastic performance from Robert de Niro and other players such as James Woods, Tuesday Weld and William Forsythe really manage to shine. This is no doubt a production of massive planning and scope and it translates wonderfully on screen - timeless, exciting, and magnificent.

Leone's classic has such a sweeping feel and atmosphere akin to 'The Deer Hunter' - perhaps one that isn't as limited or tight in its focus, with this one extending out over many, many decades, but it's still a treat and I couldn't get that comparison out of my head throughout, particularly during the reunion and party/club sequences. The film itself is just so strong, never dallying or dragging, despite how long it runs. The performances are incredible, letting you watch the internal machinations and thoughts play out, and there's a real camaraderie and respect amongst the group, even with the changing actors as they visibly age and grow. Also, befitting the ambiance and grandiosity of the film, Ennio Morricone's score is emotional, ambitious and larger than life, adding a heightened sense of awareness to each scene, as he's always been capable of. This is yet another great classic, with a fantastic twist and a blistering, iconically ambiguous finale, that I'll always kick myself for not having seen sooner, but my appreciation of cinema is all the better for finally having done so - this is a really special film.

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