CHANNEL 4 4SEVEN E4 MORE4 FILM4 4MUSIC 4oD

Viewing your Watchlist and recommended content requires Javascript

  • 18
  • Crime, Drama
  • 1984
  • 227 mins

Once Upon A Time In America

Once Upon A Time In America

Synopsis

A truly magnificent piece of cinema. Brutal, elegaic and utterly compelling, Sergio Leone's sombre epic is one of the finest commentaries on the birth pangs of modern America

About

The third and final film in director Leone's notional trilogy of movies about the birth of modern America, which began with the iconic Once Upon A Time In The West and continued with A Fistful of Dynamite (which Leone later explained was originally to have been titled 'Once Upon A Time In Mexico').

Spanning 40-odd years, Once Upon A Time In America follows a clutch of Jewish immigrant gangsters from their days as excitable juvenile delinquents in Brooklyn, through the Prohibition era and into their dotage. Focussing principally on philosophical Noodles (De Niro) and his lethal partner Max (Woods), over the course of three and a half hours Leone charts their changing fortunes and fluctuating loyalties as first they have everything to play for, then everything to lose. En route there's jail, betrayal, opium and murder but through it all Noodles and Max remain bound by the dreams they shared as kids - dreams that sometimes sustain them, and other times threaten to destroy them.

Any simple description of the plot fails to convey the complexity of the various relationships, or the fragmented nature of the story - a brilliantly structured mosaic of memories drawn together by the symbol of a ringing telephone, echoing down the years.

Shot with a beautiful, fluid grace, it's a patient piece of filmmaking and Leone invests these characters with a vivid inner life. But it's also a bitter, brutal story in which the characters' ambition is overshadowed by violence, and greed wins out over love. De Niro, whose character ages around thirty years, gives a solid, thoughtful performance but it's Woods who's the firecracker here.

Sad and vast yet compelling throughout, this remain Leone's most towering achievement.

Cast & Connections

  • Actor: Elizabeth McGovern, Robert De Niro, James Woods, Tuesday Weld, Burt Young, Treat Williams
  • Director: Sergio Leone
  • Screen Writer: Leo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Sergio Leone, Franco Ferrini, Stuart Kaminsky, Franco Arcalli, Enrico Medioli
  • Producer: Arnon Milchan
  • Photographer: Tonino Delli Colli
  • Composer: Ennio Morricone

In a nutshell

Grand in sweep and melancholy in tone, this is a powerful attempt to view recent American history through the intimate lives of its characters. Woods and De Niro give expert performances and there's barely a scene here that doesn't demonstrate Leone's lavish visual style.

Latest from Film4...

  • Film4 Wish I Was Here

    Wish I Was Here

    Zach Braff writes, directs and stars in his belated second feature about a man who begins to re-examine the relationships in his life after his father falls ill

  • Film4 A Walk Among The Tombstones

    A Walk Among the Tombstones

    Ex-New York cop turned unlicensed private detective Matt Scudder (Liam Neeson) hunts down two ruthless kidnappers, who target the wives of mid-level drug dealers with ready cash

  • Film4 Neighbouring Sounds

    Neighbouring Sounds on Film4

    Life in a middle-class Brazilian neighbourhood changes upon the arrival of an independent private security firm in Kleber Mendonca Fliho's assured debut on Film4

  • Film4 Ferris Bueller's Day Off

    Wheels In Motion Season On Film4

    It's a parade of motorcycles, trains and automobiles on Film4 as the Wheels In Motion Season gets rolling

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Joe Cunningham's 10 recommendations for LFF 14

    Unfortunately I haven¿t been jet setting around the world this year to the various exciting international film festivals, but that¿s what makes the London Film Festival¿s compilation approach to progr

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Michael Leader's 11 recommendations for LFF 2014

    One of the best things about the London Film Festival¿s smorgasbord approach to programming is that, amongst the world premieres and gala screenings, there¿s an eclectic collection of exciting films o

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

  • Set film reminders
  • Build your watchlist
  • Get film suggestions

or Register

Share