As much as I adore Italy and italians, and as much as I love Bertolucci, De Niro, Depardieu, Lancaster and Sutherland, I have to say this movie let me down a little bit. I mean it's a good movie, but it could have been much better. The snag is that one has to know what happened in Italy during that period of time to fully understand what the movie is really about. Bertolucci knew it beforehand, which probably explains his need to have the best french actor, the best american actor, some other excellent american actors besides his italian actors troop (some of them are excellent by the way) to be in this movie. I think I can say that I know pretty well the italian twentieth century history, and yet I think this movie is a little bit of a mess.
The italian paysage, the countryside, the photography and the colors are really breathtaking. The director really knows how to suit the locations and paysage to almost every moment and particular scene of the movie. But to me, what misses the most in this movie is the dialog. You sit and watch scene after scene and you have the feeling that the movie is finally about to take off, but it doesn't, it quite never does. Yes, there are many excellent scenes, some of them being very explicit in a way or another, but this is the classic example of the total being too inferiour to the sum of it's separated parts.
As far as the acting is concerned, Lancaster is undoubtfully the one who gives the best performance here, and he seems really lucky to have played a relatively small part. Some of the scenes he's in are among the best of this movie. Depardieu is excellent too. Donald Sutherland is good, but every time he's onscreen one can't help wondering if he's frustrated because of the bizarre acts he has been told to perform or simply because he knows he has to act someone who, whatever the reasons, seems to be permanently in anger.
But to me the most disappointing is my all time favourite actor, De Niro. He comes in and goes out, smiles, chuckles, moans, groans and never seems to really be in this movie. Anonymous, that's the word that occured to me while watching this film, as far as De Niro's acting is concerned. Luckily enough, this movie didn't harm that much his reputation at the time, and he went on later to give absolutely mesmerizing performances in gems like "The last tycoon", "The deer hunter" and "Raging bull".
I have only watched the original 6 hours long version, both in english and italian, and I have to say I don't have any problems with the accents. I still keep watching this movie 25 years after it's release, just to make sure I haven't missed anything before and to see if I can appreciate it more now. And I still keep thinking that this is a somewhat messy movie who failed to deliver the message and the promises it was supposed to deliver to the italian public, and to a greater extent to the international public. To me this movie is a big project overwhelmed by it's own intents.
If you're new to the italian cinema you'd better try "Il conformista", "The last emperor" and "The last tango in Paris" by the same director, and try also the best of Fellini, Scola, Visconti, De Sica, Antonioni and, yes, how could I forget, the master of the masters, Sergio Leone.
Maybe the only one who emerges unscathed from this mess is Sterling Hayden, who doesn't have any scenes in which he embarrasses himself (unlike everyone else in this film) and manages to create a somewhat realistic character.
I don't care if Bertolucci made this film. It's completely inept, devoid of subtlety or intelligence, and terrible in every way. If Bernardo's name wasn't attached to it, people would laugh this film into obscurity. But no, people make excuses for it and for some reason even give it five stars. If possible, I'd give it zero.