Once Upon a Time in America (1984)

Sergio Leone directs Robert DeNiro, James Woods and Tuesday Weld in this gangster saga where a teen gang turn prohibition bootleggers turn old survivors with regrets.

A long movie of moments. Many of them brilliant, iconic but as many unfinished and puzzling. The gangster epic by way of dream. The framing opium den sequences ruin any chance of us trusting this fractured, jumbled narrative that flows like a half-true confession. Decades forgotten memories re-emerge from a jump cut of a frisbee catch yet we never find out what happens in the now when the past can overwhelm a scene. We peek in at a child in her lace dancing, we peek in at a more desirable past. The glow and invitation of it illuminates our spy hole. Is Noodles looking back into time for a better version of himself? All his actions from the midway point reveal a callous, violent and merciless man. A psychopath who only knows how to take what he wants. Have we been investing all our faith in the wrong protagonist? Have we been following the villain of the piece? What stock can we put into his memories of the “good” he did, the successful scores he masterminded and the friends he loved? We are reliving the fantasies of a man with too much betrayal to forget. He remembers nothing of his teenage years in prison or his new life in Buffalo. Maybe these purposefully ignored, brutalising parts of his life are the undeniable soul of a nasty, untrustworthy criminal? Maybe the sepia soaked good old days of scams and yearning and camaraderie in the Lower East Side are all that is worth reminiscing over?


Check out my wife Natalie’s Point Horror blog https://cornsyrup.co.uk

We also do a podcast together called The Worst Movies We Own. It is available on Spotify or here https://letterboxd.com/bobbycarroll/list/the-worst-movies-we-own-podcast-ranking-and/

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