It is 1920 and a band of adolescent Jewish thieves roam New York City’s Lower East Side. The years pass and, thanks to Prohibition, the small petty thieves become grown-up mobsters.
Two of them, Noodles (Robert De Niro) – who is quiet and prone to depression – and Max (James Woods) – his hot-headed opposite – meet in their childhood haunts in 1968 to reminisce about the past.
Sergio Leone worked on this project for 13 years, but his long (nearly four hours long!), fascinating homage to the gangster movie was shorn of 88 of its original 277 minutes, to the disgust of the director who then disowned the picture.
In spite of the mutilation inflicted on the film – which renders chunks of the storyline virtually incomprehensible – Once Upon A Time In America remains a remarkably imaginative work, with outstanding central performances from the intense, explosive Woods and De Niro, in whom Leone rekindled the passion which blazed in Raging Bull (1980).
As usual, Leone pays close attention to period details and composition, once again emphasising his preference for the power of images over dialogue.
Once Upon A Time In America is a fitting sequel to Leone’s 1969 Once Upon A Time In The West. Sadly Leone died shortly after the production of the film, but it provides a fascinating conclusion to an iconic career.
David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson
Robert De Niro
Maximilian ‘Max’ Bercovicz
James Conway O’Donnell
Police Chief Vincent Aiello
Patrick ‘Patsy’ Goldberg
Philip ‘Cockeye’ Stein
‘Fat’ Moe Gelly
Officer ‘Fartface’ Whitey