Once Upon a Time in America ★★★½

The Movie of the Week, as suggested by Stu (I See Dead Pixels).

I'm glad Stu picked One Upon a Time in America because I'd been revisiting so many Leone movies recently; but I think I would have let this one slide another year or two. It was interesting movie to revisit -- more so than I expected. I feel like I watched a completely different film from the one in my memory. It was just like watching it for the first time, really...

The one thing I recalled accurately is just how slow of a burn it is. I was prepared for a long movie (the extended director's cut is 4 hours and 11 minutes), but I was not prepared for the exact level of patience required. Some of the long camera movements were beautiful, and other were agonizing -- many both, if I'm honest.

Once the plot got moving, I was enthralled by the lyricism -- this is a film that can only exist in Sergio Leone's world vision. I think I did this film a disservice when I first saw it, comparing it too much to his "Dollars" trilogy. Way back when, I think I was expecting it to be more like his westerns, or maybe more like Godfather. It definitely has some of Leone's western sensibilities, but this is its own beast -- different from everything before or since. The patience and lyricism gives the film a certain authenticity. It really feels like the era.

It seems like I forgot completely about the non-linear storytelling, and that was my favorite part this time. Some of the old age makeup was *cough* showing its age, but there was a fluidness to the in-and-out of time that was unexpected and added greatly to the narrative. I have to do some research later and see how much the extended edition altered the American theatrical release. How much of my mind's jumble is me and how much is the edition?

De Niro is really what makes the film so worthwhile. He just has that star power when he's on screen -- his face is so interesting to look at, and it's nearly impossible not to consider and project all the things going through his brain at a certain time. James Woods, Joe Pesci, Danny Aiello, William Forsythe, and Elizabeth McGovern round out a great cast, but the big surprise was a young Jennifer Connelly. Maybe it's time to give Labyrinth or Phenomena a spin...

Oh, and the score was better than I remember. I listen to a lot of scores, but this isn't one I pull out for Morricone. That may change... it was cool to hear some contemporary songs used in the score, similar to HBO's Westworld. Love the concept, even though I find it distracted in both instances. :)