Once Upon a Time in America (Version française)
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This movie has a checkered history, having been chopped from its original 227-minute director's cut to 139 minutes for its U.S. release. This longer edition benefits from having the complete story (the short version has huge gaps) about turn-of-the-century Jewish immigrants in America finding their way into lives of crime, as told in flashback by an aging Jewish gangster named Noodles (Robert De Niro). On the other hand, it's almost four hours long, and this sometimes-indulgent Sergio Leone film is no Godfather. Still, it is notable for the contrast between Leone's elegiac take on the gangster film and his occasional explosive action, as well as for the mix of the stoic, inexpressive De Niro and the hyperactive James Woods as his lifelong friend and rival. --Marshall Fine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
At 229 minutes, this is the longest cut seen on video, and the version seen at Cannes and in the rest of Europe. It's only two minutes longer than the version available for a long time on VHS, adding (mostly) more gruesome shots of violence in four different scenes. The sound and image have been remastered, making for a pristine presentation. Time film critic Richard Schickel does a commendable job in his feature-length commentary. Although he doesn't know all the insider stuff, he has ample knowledge and affection for Sergio Leone, and will help the interested viewer reexamine the film from a few different viewpoints. The only other extras are nearly 100 production photos and a 20-minute excerpt from a documentary on Leone, Once Upon a Time, which leads to one puzzler: why isn't the whole documentary on the disc? --Doug Thomas --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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Despite what can seem like turgidness on first viewing, this film is likely to stick to your ribs and merit repeat screenings. DeNiro smolders throughout, while James Woods delivers a teriffic scenery-chewing performance. The story is friendship (and betrayal, of course)--or is it Romulus and Remus? Greek tragedy, perhaps? Godfather parts 1 and 2 rolled into one film? Yes, and more. And viewers familliar with Leone only through his spagetti westerns are in for a surprise: Leone is a world-class film-maker here, capable of stunning beauty and cruelty, often within the same frame.
Does it really need to be this slow? Does the flashback to childhood need to be almost and hour and a half long (don't worry--it's absorbing enough in its own right to keep you from noticing)? Does the the chronology need to be so screwy? Does that darn phone need to ring so long? Absolutely.
Fans of Woods, DeNiro, Leone, or gangster movies in general canot afford to pass this film up. The supporting cast, especially the young actors playing the gang members in thier childhood, is also consistently stellar. Best viewed on a cold wintry afternoon when you've got plenty of time. Opium not provided.
I remember when it first came out, I was mesmerized by it for three reasons. Firstly, when it was released there was possibly never a more violent film than this one, with the possible exception of Scarface. Thus, the action is first-rate. Secondly, the performances were all compelling. One performance that went overlooked, I think, was Tuesday Weld's volatile performance as the damaged and emotionally scarred girlfriend of the equally volatile Woods. DeNiro, of course, holds every scene he's in; there's a great sequence in the film involving crooked cop Danny Aiello and a sick practical joke played on him by the gangsters seeking to influence him; additionally, a young Jennifer Connelly gives a fine performance as the childhood sweetheart of one of the gang-members. Thirdly, the pacing of the film was deliberately extended in several sequences to allow for Ennio Morricone's haunting, melancholic, and most deeply felt musical score. When Morricone's music swells, so collectively do we, and the play on the screen becomes the ultimate tragedy that can never have a happy ending.
Some of the visuals of the film are especially striking, not the least of which is the aerial shot of DeNiro lying under a mesh cover on a mattress in an opium den, grinning goofily while he allows the opium to take its effect, and wipe away the memories of his betrayal. Other standout visuals include the shot of a frisbee flying through the air to introduce yet another flashback sequence, the opening sequences of horrifying violence, and a final sequence involving a garbage truck.
All of this together creates an unforgettable movie experience, one that will stay with the viewer for a long time.
Warner Brothers 2 disc set does have its drawbacks. First, the movie itself is spread over two discs and, there is no polite way to say it, the interruption is obtrusive. The break happens right in the middle of a crucial scene. Interruption aside, the DVD is marred by considerable film grain and a bit of digital grit that make most of the images digitally harsh instead of creamy smooth. Many scenes offer remarkable clarity and depth while others, mostly night time or dark scenes suffer from a loss of fine detail that disappears into a haze of undistinguished muddy blacks, browns and blues. Edge enhancement, pixelization, shimmering and aliasing are present throughout the transfer, sometimes distractingly so. The audio is remixed 5.1 and is strident and lacking in tonal bass.
Extras: Pretty much a retrospective and audio commentaries. Some toss away stuff. That's it, that's all!
BOTTOM LINE: For its sheer mastery in the art of cinema story telling, I recommend "Once Upon A Time In America". The transfer leaves something to be desired but hey, it's nice to have this American classic back in the spotlight and, finally, in its full running time.
Leone touches on issues of violence (the scenes are gory and sometimes explicit), sexual depravity (its no coincidence that all sexual encounters are in unconventional places and only in Noodles' rape of Deborah does he exhibit any kind of emotion toward any of his partners, gently caressing and kissing her as he violates her in a pathetic attempt to show his love), and simply growing old (brought about by the reminisces of Noodles' childhood with a beautiful good 'ol days type feeling despite the criminal nature of his childhood) and leaves us clamoring for more after the four hours are through.
Robert DeNiro is fantastic as always as Noodles. But it is James Woods, in my opinion that steals the show as Max. William Forsythe, Treat Williams, Danny Aiello, Burt Young, Joe Pesci, Jennifer Connely and Tuesday Weld add to this film just as actors of their quality are expected to. Their performances, as well as the two leads at the very least deserved, but didn't recieve any, Academy Award nominations. (In fact, the Oscars were the only ceremony to snub this film). Ennio Morricone's score was as beautiful and evocative as one would expect from the master of the Italian score.
Worth seeing. Sit back, take the phone off the hook and prepare for a cinematic experience.