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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - Directed by Sergei Leone

Sergei Leone became famous for the spaghetti westerns that he made, and for which he was the prime creator. At the same time, some of these westerns were very acclaimed movies, ranked among the great movies. One of the great westerns he made was 'Once Upon a time in the West' made in 1968, and it was almost from that time that he read a book by a mafia insider (known by a pseudonym called Harry Grey) called 'The Hoods'. He was inspired by this book, and wanted to make a movie out of this book, but because the movie rights of the book was held by another producer, it took him a couple of decades to finally make this movie. Over this long time, a number of different actors were thought of for the key roles of Max, Noodles, and Deborah (with the number of people being thought reading like a roll call of the actors of the movie industry), in the end, the main adult roles of the characters were played by Robert De Niro, James Woods, and Elizabeth McGovern (adult female lead), Jennifer Connelly (younger female lead).

The movie itself came in for controversy because of its long length. After the shooting, the director and editor found themselves with more than 8 hours of footage. Leone, not wanting to cut down from the many scenes, initially wanted to release the movie as 2 three hour long movie parts, but had to back down after the producers insisted. He finally cut down the movie to an almost 4 hour long, 229 minute movie (which is also fairly long by most standards). This 229 minute long movie was very well received by critics; but the US release had a different story. Against Leone's wishes, the movie was cut down further, by cutting another 90 minutes from the movie, resulting in a movie that was not welcomed by the critics. However, when they saw the original 229 minute cut, they changed their opinion, and that is the version that is the popular one now, with most people pretending that the shorter version does not exist.
The movie takes 3 different timelines, with different ages for the main characters. In the early part of the movie, in the early 1910's, with the characters in their early years, struggling to survive in the ghettoised neighborhood. Noodles and Max meet up, and become the local leaders of a small gang, until they have a fight with another gang, at which Noodles kills the the other gang leader and attacks a police officer. He is now jailed for 12 years.
After Max comes out of jail in 1932, he re-joins Noodles and other gang members, and they slowly start getting involved in Mafia matters, taking part in jobs, getting involved in strikes and being on the side of the union leaders. However, Noodles is hesitant at the pace proposed by Max and tries to get them to slow down. He calls the police when the gang is at another job in order to get them to slow down, but this results in an encounter in which his gang friends, including Max, are killed. Noodles goes to get the gang money, but finds that missing. He eventually changes his identity to escape the hunt by the Syndicate for the traitor, and lives in Buffalo for decades.
In the fast forward to the future, in 1968, Noodles returns to New York City, and finds that there are some surprised. He discovers that Max had actually faked his death with help from the Syndicate, and then deceived his friends, and had stolen the money. He now wants Noodles to assassinate him, but when Noodle refuses, Max commits suicide by throwing himself into a garbage truck (an iconic scene).
However, there is a flashback, where the Noodles of 1933, in an opium den, on the run from the Syndicate is shown; he is an opium induced trance, and the supposition is that the entire future events of 1968 are actually a dream, and this is something that Sergei Leone has confirmed in an interview.

Once Upon a Time in America (1984) - Directed by Sergei Leone, and starring Robert De Niro and James Woods

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