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Teen Movie Critic

Once Upon a Time in America


Roger Davidson

Once Upon a Time in America
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Here was a film that was butchered upon release in the U.S. I saw the original version on video before I saw the cut version on HBO. Believe me, seeing the cut version, after seeing the original, wasn't pretty. The story is about a group of young hoods, who grow up and become big time mobsters. The film switches back and forth between three periods of time-1921, 1933 and 1968. The two leaders of the group (Robert De Niro and James Woods) are friends all the way through the movie. In 1921, when the De Niro and Woods characters were kids, they started to move in on some of the big time gangsters, but ended up getting one of their members killed and sending De Niro in the slammer. In 1933, the year prohibition pretty much ended, De Niro gets out of jail and joins with Woods once again. They kill various enemies and start to control the streets. In the end, De Niro betrays Woods and turns him over to the police.

Finally, in 1968, years after the partnership between Woods and De Niro ended, Woods is now a wealthy man, whose crimes are finally being dug up by certain investigators. He wishes to end his life, but he wants De Niro to do it for him. To tell what happens would be an injustice to the people reading this right now. I loved every minute of this film. Once again, Sergio Leone (Once Upon A Time In The West) proves his status as a great director with this, probably his masterpiece, poignant look at gangster life and the people that surround it. De Niro and Woods play off each other excellently. There is a good supporting cast which includes Treat Williams as a union boss, Danny Aiello as a nosy cop, Elizabeth McGovern as De Niro's love and Jennifer Connelly as the younger version of McGovern. The sets and cinematography are exquisite, showing three different eras in America.

As for the cut version, I can see why this wasn't a success. Key elements in the plot are never explained, as they are in the original version. It goes in chronological order, which doesn't seem to help it one bit, considering that (as it was done in the original version) you needed the scenes from the later eras to flashback and explain who certain characters were. Once Upon A Time In America did not get the acclaim it should have gotten, simply because it was shorn of 88 minutes worth of footage.

My Rating = Four Stars

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