Once Upon a Time in America
Once Upon a Time in America is a 1984 epic crime drama film co-written and directed by Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone and starring Robert De Niro and James Woods. The film is an Italian-American picture produced by The Ladd Company, Embassy International Pictures, PSO Enterprises, and Rafran Cinematografica, and distributed by Warner Bros. It was the final film that Leone directed before his untimely death in 1989. The film explores many key themes, including childhood friendships; love, lust, greed, betrayal, loss, broken relationships, together with the rise of mobsters in American society.
The film was infamously re-edited by The Ladd Company and chopped down from 229 minutes to 139 minutes long and rearranged all the scenes in chronological order, destroying the narrative and poetic beauty of the film. After the film failed, Leone didn't direct a single film and died in 1989 at the age of 60.
However, in various DVD and Blu-Ray releases, the film has been restored to its original 229 minute long beauty and is now universally regarded as a cinematic masterpiece and one of the greatest gangster movies of all time. In 2014, a 251 minute long Extended Director's Cut was released on Blu-Ray to even further critical acclaim.
The film is based on the novel The Hoods written by Harry Grey and tells about the lives of lifelong gangster friends David "Noodles" Aaronson (De Niro) and Maximilian "Max" Bercovicz leading young Jewish individuals into the world of criminal activities in New York City and in the story, the characters face many issues including betrayal, lust, corruption and unlawfulness.
Why It Rocks
Note: These reasons refers to the original 229 minutes cut and the 251 minutes extended cut.
- Beautiful, poetic, saddening, haunting & Shakespearian story.
- Stunning cinematography, making for the most visually beautiful gangster movie ever made.
- An absolutely beautiful, somber, haunting and mesmerizing score by Ennio Morricone.
- Phenomenal direction by Sergio Leone.
- Amazing characters like Noodles and Max and performances from Robert De Niro and James Woods.
- The period details are so stunning that the viewer feels as though they are right there back in the 1920's, 30's and 60's when the events occur.
- As mentioned before, this film was infamously re-edited to cut down run-time, killing the film's box-office performance.
When the film was originally released, the critical reception was mostly mixed, due to the different versions that were released. However, its original form was praised, but critics weren't pleased with the 139 minute version, which ended up being both a critical and financial disaster, and the short version received heavy criticism. Some critics compared the shorter version to short Richard Wagner's operas, saying that works of art that are meant to be long should be given the respect they deserve. Roger Ebert wrote in his review that the uncut version was "an epic poem of violence and greed" but was critical of the American theatrical version and described it as a "travesty". Gene Siskel deemed the uncut version of the film to be the best film of 1984.
It was only after Leone's death and the subsequent restoration of the original version that critics began to give it the kind of deserved praise displayed at its original Cannes showing. The uncut original film is considered to be far superior to the edited version released in the US in 1984. When Ebert wrote his review of The Untouchables, he called the original uncut version of Once Upon a Time in America the best film about the Prohibition era. James Woods, who deems it as Leone's finest film stated in the DVD documentary that one critic called the film the worst of 1984 and later saw the original cut years later and deemed it the best of the 1980s. The film currently holds an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes with an average of 8.6 out of 10 and a critic consensus that reads "Sergio Leone's epic crime drama is visually stunning, stylistically bold, and emotionally haunting, and filled with great performances from the likes of Robert De Niro and James Woods."
Once Upon a Time in America has been considered one of the best gangster films ever made. In 2002, Sight & Sound magazine asked UK critics were asked what their favorite films of the last 25 years were and the critics stated that it was Once Upon a Time in America which was ranked at number 10. On Time Out's list of the 50 best gangster films of all time, it was ranked at number 9.
Although the botched version received negative reviews, the film is now a cinematic masterpiece for both the 229 and 251 minute long versions and has deservedly been deemed along with The Godfather, The Godfather: Part II & Goodfellas as being one of the greatest gangster movies ever made.
Once Upon a Time in America opened at #6 on its opening weekend with a domestic gross of $2,698. The total domestic gross later reached to $5,321,508. In foreign markets, it made $254,140. Overall, it made $5,575,648 against its $30 million budget making it a box office bomb.