Once Upon a Time In America (1984) Review

Words by Yazen Al Samen

Upon its release in America, in 1984, Once Upon A Time In America was massacred. The Studio and the distributors had cut it to just over 2 hours long, rendering into a messy, incoherent run of events. Leone was apparently deeply hurt at this. This became the last movie he ever made before dying in 1989. A movie that was about 15 years in the making (Leone reportedly finished adapting it from the novel “The Hoods” by Harry Grey as early as the late 60s).

Earlier in 1984, it was released in Cannes at the original running time of nearly 3 hours 45 minutes.  The movie at Cannes was hailed. But it was ignored in the US because people only saw the edited version. The Oscars ignored it; even its music by the great Morricone was dismissed because of a technicality. The film was shown in different lengths in different countries until the DVD came in the late 90s, containing the original running time.

And it was about time. Once Upon A Time In America is an epic story of a magnificent canvass. So hypnotic and mournful. It chronicles the life of Noodles (Robert De Niro), a young Jewish hoodlum growing in New York alongside his childhood friends. The film spans 6 decades, from the WWI to the 70s, as the young Jewish friends grow up into the echelons of organized crime and bootlegging business. But the film goes further, detailing the relationships between De Niro and his closest friend, Max (James Woods), and the movie’s central plot is the developments that happen between them; their conflicts about money and love and sex.

The film has a non-linear plot line, which was organized chronologically in the short, chopped version, which also missed some of the most creative and distinct sequence about the movie, including one where a Frisbee acts as a time-lapse in a shot reminiscent of that Bone-into-Spaceship one in 2001 : A Space Odyssey. The 230 minutes long movie is one of the most evocative and nostalgic films I have ever seen.   It’s calm, romantic visual style and that greatest of all music scores by Ennio Morricone establish it as a forgotten landmark of cinema.

Sergio Leone spent a lot of time and money, and went through different casts to bring his story alive. He was a master of the Spaghetti westerns, with classics like “The Good, The Bad And The Ugly” and “Once Upon A Time In The West”. This movie stands at the top of his achievements. One of its wonders is how fully it brings these characters to life, a movie that touches human nature so delicately that it fleshes out the sadness, greed, lust and love that fills the people of its story; ending with such a grace and impact that puts the entire film into perspective.

An epic like these can so rarely be made into something as detailed as this movie, But it’s Leone’s sense of the human heart and it’s wretched desire drives what is already a great gangster and period picture. A couple of weeks ago it was announced the whole uncut version of the movie, at 4 hours 30 minutes, is going to premiere at Cannes this May. A triumphant moment for every movie fan.

Summer Releases Part 6

If there is one good thing about the this summer’s film season it is definitely variety, this summer we are clearly spoiled for choice with the huge array of cinematic productions set to hit our local theatres. I had previously mentioned that I believed 2011 was going to be the “ugly friend” of 2012. Meaning the movies last year (but a few) were so bad that by comparison those produced this year would seem incredible. This effect has been evident by some of the releases earlier this year being received more kindly than they should have been. But it looks as though the big studios were just timing their best for the sunny months of 2012 which brings us to the sixth installment of what to expect this summer.

Summer Releases Part 6


This is the new Ridley Scott film which looks amazing, gripping and exciting. The talent of the cast on paper seems epic. I hope this will be a smash. Ridley has been associated with some of the finest films that have graced our screens and I hope his direction has led this film to the level greatness we know he is capable of.

That’s My Boy

Adam Sandler is in it, that’s reason enough not to see it. If you want another reason he talks with an annoying voice the whole way through the film. If you need another reason, it’s because he is not f***ing funny anymore.

Cabin in the Woods

This film looks like it has a great cast and action sequences which hopefully proves to be an exciting and entertaining film. Joss Whedon who also penned The Avengers and writer/director Drew Goddard team up to produce this thrilling story about five unlucky teenagers. Chris Hemsworth, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford star in this mind blowing horror, if you think you know this story then think again.

You can expect multiple layers which will unravel to a huge climax. This will be exhilarating ride into all things terrible that uses all weapons available in the horror arsenal, which will hit out on all fronts.

The Three Stooges

While trying to save their orphanage Moe, Larry and Curly inadvertently stumble on to a murder plot and wind up on a reality TV show. From the trailer it looks like the stooges have truly had the 2012 treatment.

The Farrelly Brothers seemed to have put a lot of love into this film and stayed as true to the original as possible. This is classic slap stick and fart humour, and according to fans of the original series it is done well. Personally I don’t think they could ever match up to the original but it seems they have made a good attempt at bringing The Three Stooges into the modern times.

Summer Releases Part 5


In this update there are musicals, dancing based cinema, fairy tales and a Johnny Depp as a vampire! It almost sounds like the listings of children’s morning television but bear with me. Believe it or not three of these films have amazing casts that on paper would appear like a definite smash but life as we know is not so simple. I predict three of these films will do well in terms of box office success and one out of that three will actually be of any good. Take a look and judge for yourself.


Summer Releases Part 5

Rock of Ages

This is an 80s pop metal mash up of Glee and High School Musical. Prepare yourself for a HUGE fromage fest. As far as musicals go don’t expect anything like Grease, but not from the want of trying.


The only thing it has going for them it that it has an epic cast. But that doesn’t stop it being a bit of an insult to real rock and roll movies.


Step Up Revolution

So a group of very talented dancers stage random flash mob performances to say ‘we are here’. Right okay then. It is basically one massive dance video, it’s a shame the plot and the acting don’t measure up against the dance skills.


The basic story is these guys use dance to protest a rich tycoon buying up property ‘taking our jobs’ and taking ‘our way of life’ rubbish. Because we all know that if you want to stop a multimillionaire buying up land and developing it and making billions…you dance for him.


Snow White and the Huntsman

A very interesting take in the fairy tale front which seem to be very popular at this moment in time. This looks like it could be the best adaptation so far with Charlize Theron, Chris Hemsworth and pale face from twilight.


Visually stunning and full of action, though maybe a bit predictable it looks like it will be very entertaining. A fitting epic for this summer.


Dark Shadows

Jonny Depp along with an amazing cast take on this Tim Burton Munsters meets Brady Bunch story. Kind of proof Burton’s ego out stripped his talent years ago.


Predictable ‘from a different time’ jokes, and even though I very much like Depp I am not convinced with his character, he just looks like he’s in a Halloween costume trying to sound posh.