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

    As Above, So Below

    Perdita Weeks, Ben Feldman and Edwin Hodge star in writer-director John Erick Dowdle's found-footage horror mystery.

    On Film4: 27 Feb 9:00PM

  • Film4

    Wild Tales

    Argentinian writer-director Damián Szifrón's feature debut is an Oscar-nominated anthology of six darkly comedic short thrillers about violent revenge.

  • Film4

    Wild Tales on Film4

    Damián Szifrons BAFTA-winning black comedy plays on Film4 for the first time.

  • Film4

    As Above, So Below on Film4

    A deadly secret is discovered under the streets of Paris in this intensely creepy found-footage horror, playing on Film4 for the first time.

Register with Film4.com

Personalise your Film4 experience

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

or Register

Share