Once Upon a Time in America | Chicago Reader

Once Upon a Time in America

Like Once Upon a Time in the West, Sergio Leone's 3-hour-and-47-minute gangster epic (1984) is a foundation myth, though the quality of the myth is very different: the focus here is individual rather than collective, and the form is cyclical and subjective rather than linear and expansive. The relationship of Robert De Niro and James Woods—the brothers who betray—is an amalgam of Roman mythology, Christian parable, and Hollywood cliche; though the intricate flashback structure follows the memories of one man, the film also represents a kind of cultural recall—the fiction remembering itself. Every gesture is immediate, and every gesture seems eternal. Leone accomplishes all of this within the framework of a superb popular entertainment: it's a funny, rousing, brilliant piece of work. With Elizabeth McGovern, Joe Pesci, Burt Young, Tuesday Weld, and Treat Williams; the score, of course, is by Ennio Morricone.

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