The Last Movie I Would See: Once Upon a Time in America

The Last Movie I Would See: Once Upon a Time in America.

If I had a choice of one movie to watch from start to finish, knowing that I would die right after, it would be Once Upon a Time in America. No other movie is able to combine the visual and estheic beauty, a brilliant switch of pace, an incredibly beautiful music score, great subtle and also to the point acting, with several life long ideas at such a high level. While I still consider Ran, directed by Akira Kurosawa, the best movie of all time, Once Upon a Time in America has a certain human element of flaw and longing that Mr. Kurosawa did not intend to be the focal point in his movie.

The extended version of Once Upon a Time in America was an incredible movie. (Click to Tweet)

Anytime someone talks about Once Upon a Time in America, everybody mentions the incredible music written by Ennio Morricone. Although his music was written before the film was created, the emotional content amazingly fit perfectly with all the scenes used. Everytime the music is played, you know something will happen: A romantic, beautiful scene might appear; The sad, longing of a character knowing their impossible fate; Youthful decision of eating the dessert, and many other such important spots of the movie. Add to the beautiful score, sound effects are used to alert and focus everyone watching on what will lie ahead. A very useful tactic indeed.

The cast and their performances are strong. Everyone has an important aspect in this film. I believe that in Once Upon a Time in America does not have a star. Yes, most of the important scenes center around Robert DeNiro’s character. But, there is a balance this movie achieves that reminds me of a Chagall painting. So many things are going on. If you will only focus on one side of a picture, then you will lose focus on the whole movie/painting. Every actor/actress is doing something. For every line given perfectly by DeNiro, a facial expression done by James Woods makes you wonder who we should focus on, the one who speaks or the one who listens? There are incredible people on this Earth that say one should listen more than speak. Well, I notice this feature here.

Amazingly enough, to my eyes, the young kids do a stellar job not to botch things up. They were trained precisely to bring out what was later to become. I truly love how the dynamic operates at a rather young age between Noodles (DeNiro) and Max (Woods). They are constantly one upping each other at the start. But, while Noodles grows up in the competitive sense, Max needs to take everything that Noodles once had or potentially would have and try to own it.

Noodles makes several incredibly horrific decisions, and for those who have seen the movie know what they are. The main problem is that Noodles does not know how to handle rejection. Noodles started out doing petty crime, but his ultimate fate lies when avenged his friend’s death and in the heat of all the commotion kills a police officer as well. This is the moment Noodles’ beginning is the end. Besides the horrific scene with Deborah in the car, Noodles is way more passive than Max. While Noodles was rehabilitating in jail, Max was taking over duties instead of nixing this whole idea of becoming a criminal. Coming out of jail, Noodles might have a different fate. Max could have focused on having a different career or not pick Noodles up after his release from jail. We do not have enough evidence to see Noodles doing anything bad afterwards. But, as “luck” would have it, life continued step by step as they paved their path.

Deborah’s character was played perfectly. She, too, becomes a lowly character, choosing fame over decency. We all notice the boys/guys in this film, due to the fact that they are the predominant focal point in this film. But from starting out so innocently and sweetly to what gradually happens later, Deborah succumbs to the evils of Max, because of her own faults as a human being. She was going to be a star no matter what it took. Deborah wanted to stick it to Noodles for not choosing her over Max for all these years and for not being her love. Everyone sticks it to Noodles. But in the end, Max’s and Deborah’s fate change, while Noodles’ calm and peaceful life already existed for many years. Every revenge is met with pain and suffering. Another focal idea.

This leads to the masterful thoughts and lessons created by Sergio Leone. The director of this film, Mr. Leone, does an incredible job masking the graphically horrific behavior of everyone involved. If any aspect does not come towards a harmoniously high level, the music, cinematography, script, or anything else for that matter, this film fails miserably due to the intensity with which every scene is displayed.

His art is sharing the gangster world, in this case, but also giving us a visually stunning beautiful picture. A definite lover of opera, Sergio Leone understood how impactful every scene is to deliver certain hidden messages of regret and longing. I see how, frame by frame, Mr. Leone wants us to experience a piece in time that will never exist anymore. The staging and lighting are inspired by older ideas set forth by composers like Verdi and Puccini.

This is Sergio Leone’s last movie. In a different way, if I have a choice in the matter, this film will also be my last. Check out my article about the Walter Reade Theater in New York City, where I saw this magical film on the big screen.

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