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, Burt Young, Robert De Niro, Treat Williams, James Woods, Tuesday Weld
  • Director: Sergio Leone
  • Screen Writer: Franco Arcalli, Sergio Leone, Leo Benvenuti, Stuart Kaminsky, Franco Ferrini, Piero De Bernardi, 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 The Babadook

    The Babadook

    Widowed mum Amelia (Essie Davis) finds caring for her wayward child Samuel (Noah Wiseman) a tall order. But shes more or less coping until a scary picture book about the mysterious Babadook starts to haunt this single parent family

  • Film4 This Is Where I Leave You

    This Is Where I Leave You

    Shortly after discovering his wifes infidelity, Judd (Jason Bateman) learns of the death of his father. Forced to return to his childhood home to spend a week with his mother, four siblings and his extended family, Judd tries to take stock of his life.

  • Film4 Beasts of the Southern Wild

    Beasts Of The Southern Wild on Film4

    Quvenzhané Wallis stars in an Oscar-nominated role as the six year-old Hushpuppy in Benh Zeitlin's magical realist drama on Film4

  • Film4 Killer Joe

    Killer Joe on Film4

    Matthew McConaughey, Emile Hirsch and Juno Temple star in William Friedkin's noir thriller on Film4

  • Channel 4 Blog

    Joe Cunningham's 11 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