SilentDawn’s review published on Letterboxd:
Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, with no exaggeration, is one of the most moving and potent cinematic experiences that I have ever had. It's a combination of everything that made me love the cinema: Immaculate cinematography, wonderful direction, a tight and free-flowing screenplay, underlying themes woven throughout the film, pitch-perfect editing, incredible performances......
This film has EVERYTHING.
Simultaneously a gangster story, a coming-of-age fable, and an ode to aging; the film cuts between these three feelings and time-periods, all with the same characters but with each of them in different stages of development. Both physically and emotionally, the audience gets a grasp of their lives throughout the 3hr and 50 minute run-time. For most of the film, visual storytelling is the focus, bringing an ethereal and faded quality to the entire tapestry of the experience. Many moments, both grand and subtle, permeate and liven the experience. Even though most of these characters were utterly disgusting, I still found them interesting and multi-layered; and by the end of the film, I felt for them in a way that I didn't think that was possible. Truly, the ending is so beautiful that I burst into tears, and as I've mentioned before on this site; I hardly hardly cry. If a movie makes me cry, It's a keeper.
Now, the running-time can be daunting when you first start, but 10 minutes in, you won't even care. The time, like an old Polaroid, passes in a way that almost makes you forget the first part of the film. Yet, when a particular moment is remembered, the emotion and craftsmanship comes back like a shot in the heart. I did view this over the course of two nights, because I was a little iffy about where the film was going, but I shouldn't have worried. After the second-half was over, I watched the entire film again. Trust me, this is a film that brings plentiful rewards if you view it in one sitting.
The direction by Sergio leone is utterly breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Forget Once Upon a Time in The West, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly and A Fistful of Dollars; this is leone's masterwork. Basically, this is a cauldron of technical expertise and adoration of the medium. The wide shots, the extreme close-ups, the storytelling through a slight movement of the camera; the film is magical in terms of its direction.
The performances are remarkable, showcasing the true talents of Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Tuesday Weld in a cast of splendidly-chosen roles. Even Joe Pesci makes an appearance, albeit in a more understated and calm persona. Simply put, the glances and the silence that those glances reside in bring most of the power in this film. Remember, this isn't a film full of F-Bombs and long tirades given by Pesci; instead, It is a film full of astonishing and quiet serenity.
The score by Ennio Morricone, undoubtedly, is one of the finest ever composed. Sadness, nostalgia, love, temptation, and betrayal are all themes that ooze from Morricone's music. It's easily his best soundtrack, and that's no small feat.
I can't even explain the story. It's such so meticulous, so voyeuristic, so charming, so frank, so violent, so intimate, and so freaking outstanding that I can't even put it into words. I just can't. Every moment in this story is so perfect and epic in the best possible way that I can't even talk about it right now without bursting into a state of giddy delight.
Overall, Once Upon a Time in America is one of the most potent and daring cinematic accomplishment that I have ever laid eyes on. More than just a gangster film, Sergio Leone weaves a tale about life, love, sex, betrayal, friendship, and death; culminating in a passionate and commanding masterpiece.