A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.
Robert De Niro,
When young Noodles holds young Peggy in the toilet and she says "You better stop squeezing me, or I'm gonna poop in my pants", the beginning of her line sounds twice, as if two different takes have been overlapped with a cross fade. See more »
[In 1933, two goons rudely question a young woman]
Where is he? Where's he hiding?
I don't know... I've been looking for him since yesterday.
[second goon slaps her harshly; she falls onto the bed]
I'm gonna ask you for the last time: Where is he?
I don't know... What are you gonna do to him?
[Two shots are heard]
[to his partner]
Stay here in case that rat shows up...
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A sprawling, deliberately paced, and generally a superbly crafted piece of work
It's been said that when one watches a "spaghetti" western (one of the "Man with no name" films with Clint Eastwood) filmmaker Sergio Leone's trademark cinema style and flair for clear storytelling is instantly recognizable. This is no truer than in his most ambitious effort, Once Upon a Time in America, in which his usage of close-ups, concise camera movement, sound transitions and syncs, and the sudden change in some scenes from tenderness to violence. And, he pulls it off without making the viewer feel dis-interested. Of course, it's hard to feel that way when watching the cast he has put together; even the child actors (one of which a young Jennifer Connelly as the young Deborah) are believable. Robert De Niro projects his subtitles like a pro, with his occasional outburst in the right place; James Woods gives one of his first great performances as Max; Elizabeth McGovern is the heart of the film; and Joe Pesci should've had more than just a one scene appearance, thought it's still good.
It's a story of life-long friends, in the tradition of the Godfather movies with obvious differences, and the story cuts back and forth to Noodles (De Niro) in his old age returning from exile, looking back on his childhood in Brooklyn, his rise to power with his partners, and the twists come quite unexpectedly. The pace is slow, but not detrimental, and it gives the viewer time to let the emotions sink in. The story is also non-linear, and yet doesn't give away facts to the viewer- this is something that more than likely influenced Tarantino (and many others) in style. By the end, every detail that has mounted up makes the whole experience rather fulfilling, if not perfect. Finally, I'd like to point out the exceptional musical score. Ennio Morricone, as it says on this site, has scored over four hundred films in forty years, including Leone's movies. This would have to be, arguably, one of his ten best works- his score is equally lively, saddened, intense, and perhaps majestic for a gangster epic. Overall, it's filled with the same spirit Leone had in directing the picture, and it corresponds beautifully- there are some scenes in this film that would simply not work without the strings. Grade: A
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