Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Review


Noodles a former Jewish gangster in the Prohibition era returns of the Lower East Side of Manhattan after thirty years of being away and must come to terms with the regrets of his past actions and everything he lost.


Once Upon a Time in America is pretty much a life shown in three different acts, those acts being different time periods. All showing moments that would shape and even break our lead Noodles. First seeing his return and then being taken back to his teen years and being in a gang with his friends, looking to score big and make plenty of money. That was everything that had ever dreamed of, he was smitten with Deborah but didn’t really go about things in the best of ways. He ends up being locked up in prison for 12 years.

This is then our shift to the next act and in 1933, again many things were about to happen that would once again change his life. We are not shown any of his time in prison but on his release he is now back with his friends who have created themselves as gangsters and run things in that area. Looking to get into bigger things (still) and pushing the boundaries. Can Noodles eventually get back on track with Deborah after all this time, he is certainly given a very good chance.

I want to try and start with a positive and that being the score mixed with different scenes really looked stunning and sounded fantastic, pushing it to a very high level in terms of how it looks. However I feel I actually have more negatives because I could not get past either of the rape scenes, the second being traumatic I seriously did not think it was going to end and found myself looking away from the screen. In terms of character development and everything we had previously seen it really did not make any sense of him to do that at all. One of the worst I have witnessed on film (up there with A Clockwork Orange). Not forgetting the extremely bizarre and messed up scene with the first woman who was raped trying to remember who she had “seen” before as they all dropped their trousers, talk about feeling uncomfortable!

Then with a film with a running time pushing close to 4 hours you need to have the character development to really care about what happens to everyone. That is not something that is able to happen with this film in my opinion as none of them are likeable, ok maybe just Deborah but we don’t see enough of her really. They are horrible men and don’t deserve to have anything good happen to them or more importantly our sympathy. Everything that happened was there own fault and own doing, thinking they could treat people however they wanted with no consequences.

The performances were very mixed and with Robert De Niro leading the film you just know that he is going to be good, which I guess he was not at his very best though. Scott Tiler was powerful as the younger version of Noodles and I was impressed with him and actually found those earlier scenes more engaging than the later ones. Joe Pesci has a little scene stealing role, which is only what we expect from him right?

I will say though Jennifer Connelly becoming Elizabeth McGovern as the same character of Deborah was absolutely outstanding casting. Really did look very similar and I applaud the casting director for those amazing choices. Both of them put across a good innocence mixed with strength.

Overall I have to admit that this film just wasn’t for me and I have seen better around similar themes. I have gone with the 3 stars because it is very well made and powerful at times, but as I mentioned certain scenes I could not get over and the characters were not likeable at all. The slight twist at the end was a very interesting one though so I guess I can give it a little bit of credit for that as well.

4 thoughts on “Once Upon a Time in America (1984) Review

  1. Oh, Caz, three stars for one of my favourite movies? I’ve adored this epic ever since I first saw it on VHS way back in the rental days. The score from Ennio Morricone is one of the finest ever (tragically not even submitted for consideration at the Oscars that year, so it didn’t even get a nomination!) and the film itself was butchered for American release into something like two-hours with scenes re-ordered chronologically. It broke Leone’s heart and I don’t think he ever recovered (he died a few years later).

    I can understand your reservations though. I think one has to really love Leone’s filmography to really ‘get’ what he was doing- its not ever a ‘realistic’ narrative instead being more a love letter to American cinema and that neverland of movies that Europeans fell in love with. Some people contend the whole 1960s section is an Opium dream experienced by Noodles trying to assuage his guilt. That last shot, and that rising score… Pure Cinema, and utterly gorgeous/magical bliss.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry, this one just wasn’t for me. As I mentioned I just couldn’t get past the rape scenes. I did read about it being put in a different order and that really would have not worked in the same way at all. The way it flipped between the years was one of the things I really liked about the film.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.