I feel that it's kind of unfair that I haven't yet reviewed my top favorite film. My first review was dedicated to "Fistful of Dynamite", but this film is in so many ways different and I dare to say better. Many would say that this film is nothing like previous Leone's work and they'd be right. This is the final chapter of "Once Upon a Time..." thrilogy (Fistful of Dynamite was translated to "Once Upon a Time in The Revolution" in some countries, even tho the original name is "Giu la testa", meaning "Get down!".). This is the fist film Leone made based on a book. In this case, it's a book called "Hoods" by Harry Grey, taking gangs of New York in the 30's. The word is, Leone was supposed to direct "The Godfather", but he eventually gave it up for this story. Personally, I'm glad he picked this story because this way we got 2 great films. He literally fell in love with the book and the way it's written. Harry Gray was a gangmember himself, so Leone recognized honesty in it and probably loved the first hand impressions. I haven't read the book because it's hard to find it where I'm from, but I'll focus on what film is about. If you get your hands on the book, you should read it and sure would be nice if you could comment on it in the comment section.
This film is very much character based. It doesn't follow a story, but rather focuses on the characters, defining them to the smallest detail. The story itself is told in 3 different times: while main characters were just boys, their uprise and while they're old. The story doesn't go chronologicaly, but that's just how Leone decided to tell it and one can easily see why just by watching the movie. The story follows David "Noodles" Aaronson (Played by Robert de Niro and Scott Schutzman Tiler) and his "gang" of friends; the way they grew up on the streets and what the time being made them into. It's basicly a story of friendship, love, betrayal... pretty much everything that life has to offer. The feelins that one gets watching this film change drasticly. From happiness and nostalgia, to sadness and even hate. As if Leone decided to make an ultimate film, covering most of the motives present in other films. Just better. Leone uses "opera-like" directing to present certain feelings and Morricone's timeless music is there to make it all better and more emotional. I feel like i have to mention the unmasking scene (Don't worry, not gonna spoil anything for you) with Noodles and Deborah, which is dialogue based, rather than pure facial acting that Leone perfected. In my humble opinion, that is the best scene ever directed. In my head, it's battling the entrance scene to "Once Upon a Time in The West", but being that I already like "America" more, I will give it a slight advantage. So, I'm asking you to pay extra attention to this scene as the movie goes (It's near the ending.). As to the ending, I'll try not to spoil anything, but many people find it puzzling. I'll just tell you that the ending is what seems right when you finish the film. Don't overthink it, Leone wanted everyone to base the ending upon their impression of the film. Googling and browsing forums for the explaination won't help you. Just trust me.
I feel that Leone is the star of the film, even tho he was behind the camera at all times, but the actors' performances should also be prasied. Leone is known to be a perfectionist. He knew how every scene will look like before even finishing the script and he mostly used actors as "tools" to get what he wants. The acting crew is quite something. Bobby de Niro, James Woods, Joe Pesci, Elizabeth McGovern... They all did an awesome job. Kids playing the "younger version" of the characters also did a great job. One can easily relate to any of them. It seems as if they're not just soulless creatures running through the frames, but that every single one of them has a story to tell, just by the way every one of them walks, smiles, talks. It seems like this film could be made without the script, just Morricone's music in the background making the facial and guestrual acting even more effective. I don't think people would get different messages out of it, but the presence of the script makes the story and the characters a lot deeper and is also something worth praising. I've read that some people consider "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" to be very opera-like, because of the many scenes that are just followed by Morricone's music and not any dialogue. This film brougt all that to a higher level. Some wordless scenes will leave you speachless. You will learn to love, hate, sympathise... all of the characters, because this film basicly is about them.
The main reason this film failed in the USA is the fact that the original cut was quite literally raped by talentless pricks (Rape is the only word I can use for what they've done.). They actually got the original rip and decided that it was too long for the American audience. The job of "cutting" was given to the director of Police Academy (Way to show respect to Leone...). The result was a film about 2 hours and 30 minutes in lenght (out of the original 4), set chronologicly without Morricone's music to cover it. Needless to say, it failed as an award winner and as a money maker. It was nominated for the Golden Globe, but ended up as a loser. Leone was very disappointed by this and many claim that it affected his heart condition, which resulted in his death in 1989., before he could get his hands on the "Leningrad" project.
To sum up, this was probably the biggest review that I've made so far, but I felt like this film deserves every word used and that my English should improve just so that I will be able to say more about this masterpiece.
Oh, for the news, Oscar special is coming up so stay tuned. Cheers!