Once Upon a Time in America (1984) DVD Review - www.impuslegamer.com -

Feature 7.5
Video 7.0
Audio 7.0
Special Features 6.5
Total 7.0
Distributor: Warner Bros
Running Time:
220 minutes
Classification:
 R18+
Reviewer:
Erin Marcon

7.0
not an average


Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

This two disc special edition contains the unabridged version of Sergio Leone’s final film.  This definitive cut is more than an hour longer than the American theatrical release and was favoured by most critics and the director himself.   

The story is conveyed via a series of flashbacks.  A scene depicting the excavation of a cemetery provides a powerful, if obvious, metaphor for the brutal and unrelenting examination of the past that ‘Once Upon a Time in America’ represents.   

The film chronicles the life of David ‘Noodles’ Aaronson. As a boy, Noodles resorts to petty crime to survive the New York slums of the 1920s.  Almost half of the film focuses on the childhood adventures of Noodles’ gang.  The friendship formed among these children is their only moral code and indeed their only expression of humanity.  This theme remains a constant as they commit one unspeakable act after another.   

Robert De Niro plays the role of the adult Noodles with unsettling detachment while James Woods is menacing as Max, Noodles’ closest friend and rival.  Tension mounts between the two as Noodles obsessively pursues his childhood flame, Deborah (Elizabeth McGovern).  

The portrayal of women in this film is problematic.  Despite some of the female characters demonstrating occasional ingenuity, they are almost uniformly depicted as victims.  After being possessed, bashed, raped and exploited, they are essentially expected to bite their lip and accept their lot in life.  While it is admirable to demonstrate that many women of this era suffered terribly at the hands of men, the story would have been well served by granting screen time to a more substantial female character. 

The film remains, however, one of the better gangster films of the 1980s.  The period sets and matte paintings are nothing short of spectacular.  The stylish and bombastic direction is a joy to behold and Leone fans won’t want to miss some of the perfectly choreographed action sequences.  De Niro enhances his reputation as a master of playing despicable characters and the remainder of the cast are equally proficient.   

Due to technical limitations, the film is spread across two discs with the first unforgivably concluding in the middle of an important scene.  The most significant additional feature is a well-informed commentary by film critic Richard Schickel.  Unfortunately Schickel is in the habit of saying ‘you know’ quite frequently, which can become tiresome during the nearly four hour run of the film.  He is also bizarrely insensitive during the second major rape scene, at first implying that the woman invited her fate, before scurrying to safer moral territory.  Perhaps this segment could have been re-recorded?   






 
 



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