Once upon a time in America

once-upon-a-time-in-america-posterAmerican crime drama from 1984.
Starring: Robert De Niro, James Woods, Elizabeth McGovern
Director: Sergio Leone
Writers: Harry Grey, Leonardo Benvenuti, Piero De Bernardi, Enrico Medioli, Franco Arcalli, Franco Ferrini, Sergio Leone, Stuart Kaminsky
Bechdel test: Fail


Five boys grow up together as small time criminals in New York, and as adults during the prohibition they run a speakeasy. What will they do when prohibition ends? Many years later one of them reflects on their decisions.


This movie tells it story in a combination of different flashbacks and parts mixed together.

One of the boys reflects on his past in the early 60’s, and tries to find out what happened 30 years earlier. What makes this part work much better than usual is that there is actual action in this part of the story as well. It is more than a setting for flashbacks.

Next we have the story of how these boys grew up together and became friends and criminals.

Finally we have the prohibition era speakeasy story where the boys have become young men and no longer live in poverty.

All these parts of the story mixed together and shifting between them several times could have been a bloody mess, but it actually works. Little confusion and a good way of presenting the parts of the story so that the climax or end of both the speakeasy story and the story from the 60’s comes near the end of the movie.

However, the very beginning was a bit too wandering in the story parts, and includes some opium fueled flashbacks and a phone ringing between times. That bit didn’t work for me, even if the imagery of the chiming phone can be quite easily defended. It was a little lacking in subtlety.

The same is true for the imagery of the main characters often looking at the world through holes, bars, photos and similar. Although, that is beautiful to watch.


The visuals in “Once upon a time in America” are stunning and a love letter to the story, the times when it takes place, and to New York. Sadly, this is one of the very few redeeming qualities of the movie. If the movie makers had made a series of still images of the pretty scenes and asked the viewers to make up their own story instead, I think that would have been a lot more interesting.

The background music in the movie was simply annoying, and had little to add. There were some themes that reoccurred at what was defining moments for the characters, I believe, but it was simply too annoying. It took away from the acting and action. Well, that was maybe not the worst that could happen.

The acting was far from stellar in many scenes. The actors are all well renowned, and I have seen them all give good performances in other movies, but they were all wooden and unconvincing at times. Both surprising and distracting.

I have so far not commented much on the dialogue of the movies I have seen, but in this instance I must. There words seemed unnatural and obvious in several conversations. Many lines were simply unnecessary.

The most damning quality of the movie though is the part women play in the lives of these boys and men. None of the women have a personality, although two of them have a few personality traits. All women exist only as sexual beings and objects of desire in the story. Worst of all though are the two rape scenes. One is horrible and pitiless with all the naked horror one would expect from rape. The other one, well there is no excuse. The woman likes it and the plot is picked out of the worst of porn movies. The woman ends up climaxing and dates the guy for a while. No excuse!

In addition to all the bad qualities of this movie, it just keeps going. It lasts for 3 hours and 49 minutes with an intermission when there is about an hour left. I really felt like there was no end to this boring and annoying tale of pointlessness.


I hope I never have to watch this movie again, and I feel the people that have put it on a “best of list” owe me an apology.


I will never recommend “Once upon a time in America” to anyone. It is simply dreadful. In stead enjoy these still images from the movie and make up a nice story about them.

Over to you

If you’ve recently seen “Once upon a time in America” or you’re watching along with my year of movies, please leave a comment below with your thoughts on the movie or note down your opinion somewhere else.

36 movies down. 329 to go.

If you want to get “Once upon a time in America” from Amazon, here is a link for that. They probably have the movie many other places too. Maybe it’s on a streaming service you subscribe to already?

Tomorrow’s movie is “Annie Hall“. Get some more information about this movie and the other movies on my watch list this week on the upcoming movies page. If you’re new to this site and are wondering why I’m watching a movie every day for a year, read more about my experiment.

Until next time; live long and prosper.

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