Once upon a Time in America

  • 18
  • Sergio Leone (1984)
  • US
  • 251 min
Film Review
Reviewed By
5 out of 5

Sergio Leone was the man who reinvented the western with the Dollars films starring Clint Eastwood and also the masterly Once upon a Time in the West. This, his final film, is an extraordinary crime drama that runs for nearly four hours in its full-length version and chronicles the lives of two New York gangsters, Noodles and Max, played by Robert De Niro and James Woods. Clearly influenced by The Godfather - wags called Noodles and Max the "kosher nostra" - it is made on a massive scale. Four decades roll past in flashback, underpinned by a great Ennio Morricone score. The plotting is often arbitrary, but, unlike The Godfather, Leone and his fine actors never try to win our sympathy: these are nasty people and there are two rape scenes, involving Tuesday Weld and Elizabeth McGovern, that may be among the most shocking ever filmed. But just gasp at the scale, at the immaculate period reconstruction and at that incredible opening with its endlessly ringing phone. This is essentially a re-examination of Leone's western preoccupations. Just as he reclaimed the west for "violent, uncomplicated men", here he treats crime and corruption as a quintessential part of modern American life. According to Leone, we shouldn't be shocked that a bootlegger can end up mixing with the rich and powerful. That's just how the system works. It's a scathing indictment of America's recent past and perhaps that's why, like Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, it was a resounding flop on its US release and was heavily cut by its panicked distributors. It fared better in Europe, where it was hailed as a masterpiece of 1980s cinema.

Plot Summary

Epic crime drama starring Robert De Niro, James Woods and Elizabeth McGovern. Noodles, an ageing Jewish mobster haunted by his memories, is lured back to New York by a mysterious letter. His mind drifts back to his friend Max and their Lower East Side gang's rise to power before the Second World War.

Cast and crew


Robert De Niro
James Woods
Elizabeth McGovern
Jimmy O'Donnell
Treat Williams
Tuesday Weld
Burt Young
Joe Pesci
Police chief
Danny Aiello
William Forsythe
James Hayden
Darlanne Fluegel
"Fat" Moe Gelly
Larry Rapp
James Russo
Chicken Joe
Richard Bright
Young Deborah
Jennifer Connelly
Young Noodles
Scott Tiler
Young Max
Rusty Jacobs
Young Patsy
Brian Bloom
Young Cockeye
Adrian Curran
Young Moe
Mike Monetti


Sergio Leone

Other Information

Violence, swearing and nudity.
Available on video, DVD and BluRay
Certificate 18
Warner Home Video Ltd