Once Upon a Time in America is available to rent, buy and stream.
Over the years since its release, Sergio Leone’s cinematic masterpiece has too often been eclipsed by the power of both Goodfellas and The Godfather. However, Leone’s unique and powerful movie deserves the same praise and attention offered to Scorcese and Coppola as it wraps the viewer in an epic tale of friendship, betrayal and revenge that buzzes with the volatility of the journey from teenager to adult. Here Leone’s themes of immigration, isolation, economic depression and crime are beautifully realised as the melting pot of 20s and 30s New York comes under the microscope.
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Once Upon a Time in America is as relentless as it is emotionally powerful and gritty as we follow a group of friends from early adolescence to adulthood in the big apple. Leone opens the film with four streetwise kids who understand the hidden rules of New York’s backstreets. Here the kids thrive and survive on a mix of low-level crime and violence, protecting each other from the dangers of the adult world that swirl around them. These are the children of immigrants, their lives caught in a trap of self-preservation and social isolation defined by position and class – the only escape route achieved through power, notoriety and status. But this escape route is built on a child’s view of the world, with little understanding of the long-term costs of their actions.
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As they grow into young adults, Sergio Leone explores the journey from mouthy teenagers to adult criminals while never losing his focus on the individual’s vulnerability. Here the scale and nature of their crimes and the brief notoriety provided are wrapped in the sense of impending doom. After all, power eventually fades, and success can quickly turn to tragedy.
Despite the overarching darkness of his film, Leone’s Once Upon a Time in America transcends the boundaries of the classic gangster movie. Here Leone delivers a beautifully framed exploration of how the choices made in our youth affect the trajectory of our adult life. The final scenes are wrapped in memories that can’t be changed, disagreements that can’t be healed and friendships that died due to position, status and survival.
Director: Sergio Leone