62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
on 31 May 2011
This film is one of my 10 favourites of all time. It is utterly brilliant. There are plenty of other five-star reviews on this site that you can read for details of why it is so brilliant. I'm not going to repeat what other reviewers have said, so I will just offer one VERY IMPORTANT piece of advice:
Make sure you buy the longest version you can find.
A European lab is currently (May, 2011) restoring the original 269 minute version, which is likely to premiere at Cannes in 2012.
Leone's European version ran 229 minutes, and it appears that this Blu-ray product is that version. The 229 minute European version is the one that is currently considered to be a classic. I've seen it two or three times, and I love every minute of it.
When this film was released in the United States, distributors insisted that it be cut further. The film was slashed to 139 incomprehensible minutes, and the numerous flashback scenes were shifted into chronological order. The result was a disaster, and this is why there are still some poor reviews for the film floating around the 'net (all from American critics). I saw this version once myself, and it was indeed rubbish.
So there you are. Buy this version - which is the best currently available - and you will not be disappointed.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
My oh my.There is a distinct polarisation of opinion of this film on the Amazon website.As you can see from the five stars i believe this is a truly great film, a classic ,a masterpiece.Yes it,s long, yes it,s slow, yes the lead characters are amoral thugs but none of this matters.This labyrinthine tale of Jewish gangsters subsides to an emotional core that is sombre and elgaic and ultimately moving.Those who don,t get it....well i suggest they consult a doctor because they may well have a lump of sandblasted tar instead of a heart.
Sergio Leone,s interpretation of Harry Grey,s "The Hoods" takes an average pulp thriller and transforms it into a complex epic that slips easily between three time periods and gradually reveals a monumental betrayal.The genesis and evolution of the characters story is beleivable and though the fact that the screenplay was produced by Italians means the dialouge is occasionally clunky it,s never unrealistic or unintentionally humourous.
Robert De Niro plays the adult "David "Noodles" Aaronson" who in one of the films lighter scenes(played by the child actors who potray the characters in their younger years , obviously) meets Max played by James Woods who quickly becomes fellow leader of the gang Noodles ran.Noodles has the hots for the daughter of the local bar owner, Deborah played by Jennifer Connelly, and it,s the dichotomy between Noodles deep friendship with Max and his love for Deborah that provide much of the films narrative momentum.The gang gradually progress to become criminals of some repute,most of which occurs while Noodles is in prison for kniving a rival gang leader, but they are still employed by a mob boss played by Joe Pesci to intervene in industrial disputes or murder fellow mobsters.
Max has a fixation with robbing the federal reserve which Noodles knows is a scuicide mission,so in order to save his friend he turns them in to the police but the arrest goes horribly wrong and they all perish.Noodles is now alone and pursued by henchman of a vengeful mob boss. Wisely he decides to escape taking all the gangs ill gotten gains only to discover it,s all gone.He has no alternative but to leave town on the first bus out which goes to some back of beyond town where he spends the next thirty years.....until a letter arrives offering him money for one last job.Knowing they,ve found him he returns only to discover things are not what they seem.
This is a sumptuous film,beautifully shot which looks great on DVD compared to my old grainy video copy.Leone,s trademark technique of lingering on characters faces is used extensively but all the actors are superb and carry it off easily,particually De Niro playing the old stooped Noodles.Some of the scenes as he visits old haunts and comes across old acquaintances are astonishingly poignant.Ennio Morricone,s extraordinary evocative score plays a major part in this.Apparantly it was played on set to help the actors find the right mood.It worked beautifully.
Noodles is not a particually sympathetis character but his violent past clearly haunts him.His betrayal, his rape of Deborah when he realises she intends to leave him behind in her life,the men he killed all weigh heavily on his mind and its testimony to Leone that he manages to make the audience care about these misanthropic people.
The complaints about the point at which the film cuts to the scond disc are fully justified.Whoever made this crass decision should be ashamed.The commentary by film critic Richard Shickel is a tad dull and at times a bit patronising but theres a doccumentary to add a bit more depth.But i buy DVD,s for the film and they don,t come better than "Once Upon a Time in America".Ignore the grumpys, this a terrific film and anyone who complains because the ending is ambiguous should really stick to Michael Bay movies."Once Upon a Time in America " is magnificent cinema.Peerless.
33 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on 8 June 2013
Once Upon a Time in America extended cut
Distributor: Warner Home Video (Italy)
For anyone who has yet to experience Sergio Leone's epic masterpiece, Once Upon a Time in America is a movie that simply has everything going for it. With a deeply engrossing plot to keep you guessing right through to the final frame, top tier performances from an exceptional cast, a phenomenal and highly memorable soundtrack and superb direction from one of Italy's most respected film makers, this is actually one of the few titles that could seriously give The Godfather a run for its money to the title of best gangster/mob movie of all time.
The film has endured a huge following over the years but not without its fair share of controversy. Originally released at 229 minutes in length, this was later cut down for American audiences to a mere 139 minutes making certain aspects of the movie unrecognisable and creating much dissatisfaction among movie goers everywhere. The original longer cut was certainly a different film and soon became recognised as the only way to see the movie. The story however does not end there as it was well known that Sergio Leone had actually cut around 40 minutes of footage from his original release which would have made the full running running time of the movie around 269 minutes in length and film collectors everywhere soon began pining for an even longer extended version.
Despite much talk of releasing a longer cut, Leone unfortunately passed away in 1989 and all hope of ever seeing his original vision became lost until 2011 when it was announced that Leone's children together with the films original sound editor would attempt to recreate the 269 minute cut using the remaining out-take footage. The new restoration of the film premiered at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, however due to unforeseen rights issues for the deleted scenes, the film's latest cut actually ended up being 251 minutes, although Martin Scorsese (whose Film Foundation helped with the film's restoration) stated that he is helping Leone's children get the rights to the final 24 minutes of deleted scenes to eventually make a complete version of Leone's original 269 minute print. In August 2012, it was reported that the newly restored version of the film that had premiered at the Cannes festival had been pulled from circulation pending further restoration work, however 3 months later this 251 minute version found its way to blu-ray release exclusively in Italy.
Okay, so that's the history lesson out of the way, so how about the actual blu-ray?
Comprising of around 22 minutes of extra re-inserted material this was always going to be a controversial release among the legions of film fans everywhere with opinions differing as to whether the new material actually serves any real purpose to the films already impressive running time. The scene extensions themselves do add some extra narrative and character development although some extensions probably work better than others.
As for the actual quality of the presentation, it would appear as though even the blu-ray itself is not without its fair share of controversy. Firstly the studio is stated to have made the new extended cut using a 4k master which generally looks pretty impressive (although the newly inserted extra material is easily spotted by the noticeable drop in quality) Secondly somewhere along the line, the newly scanned transfer has also resulted in a colour change which again has its share of detractors as well many other people who have stated that they now prefer the newer tones as looking more natural. Finally and perhaps most controversially, the Italian distributor released the now 251 minute movie on one single blu-ray disc, once again causing much internet debate with rumours of unnecessary compression artefacts now being highly noticeable throughout the presentation.
So with all of this baggage going in, it was certainly going to prove to be an interesting title to review.
Presented region B locked with a 1080p 1.85:1 transfer, the first thing long time fans will notice is the aforementioned change in colour. Blacks are certainly more subdued than the previous blu-ray release although there is definitely an argument to be had over which of the two colour palates looks more natural. Detail is reasonably impressive especially during long shots which pick up previously unseen information, however the main complaints over this release appear to centre around a perceived abundance of compression artefacts throughout the transfer. On viewing the presentation, rumours of severe and persistent problems throughout the print would appear to be highly exaggerated as although certain scenes exhibit a very minor presence of a grain like substance, this in no way spoils the presentation in what is overall a pretty decent transfer (the obvious exception again being the newly inserted footage which is sadly of a far lesser quality)
Audio is presented with Italian Mono and DTS 5.1 options as well as an English DTS 5.1 track.
The Italian tracks actually seem the louder and perhaps more atmospheric of the three however the English track delivers an overall pleasing performance with clear dialogue and the always impressive score now sounding better than ever, although it's really only your front speakers that will have any work to do during the presentation.
Extra features are unfortunately none existent, however you could argue that the presence of the extra material exclusive to this release is reason enough to generate interest here, although it would certainly have been beneficial to have included a documentary or two on the film itself or even on the new restoration, albeit on a separate disc.
All things considered, if you hold anything more than a passing interest in the film then this release certainly makes for a compelling watch and an excellent disc to have in your collection and at an import price of around £12 delivered, it is far from expensive. Whether or not the extended version will ever make it to blu-ray in other territories or perhaps even be bettered is quite frankly anyone's guess but ultimately the choice to wait or to take this version as it currently stands is fortunately your own.
Not surprisingly, for a film already steeped this deep in controversy, the ongoing debate looks set to run for some time yet...
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75 of 83 people found the following review helpful
on 12 February 2011
There's not much to say that hasn't been said already. 'Once Upon a Time in America' is without a doubt one of the best films of all time. A grand tale of nostalgia and regret directed by a legendary filmmaker. Robert De Niro, James Woods and the rest of the cast all give great performances. Ennio Morricone's score is simply beautiful.
No film buff should miss it.
The transfer looks quite good. There are no distracting compression artifacts or other anomalies. There is no excessive DNR and the image looks natural. It might not be a demo-worthy material but it is truthful to the original look of the film and a significant improvement over the DVD release.
The DTS-HD Master Audio track, while not spectacular, is very clear and precise. There's not much happening in the surround channels but it is an accurate representation of the original, almost 30-year-old soundtrack.
All in all, this Blu-ray release is the best the film has ever looked on home video and truthful to the original theatrical presentation.
Available audio tracks: English (DTS-MA), Spanish, Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Polish (all DD 5.1)
Available subtitles: English, Brazilian Portuguese, Bulgarian, Spanish, Chinese, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Korean, Latin Spanish, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Swedish, Thai, Turkish
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 23 November 2014
Well that's my view; and it's confirmed by having just watched the BR extended version.
Quality is outstanding for all except the extended footage and the producers of the disc have done the best they can with sub-optimal elements .. but it's so good to see these extended scenes, poor visual quality notwithstanding.
I think four of the extended scenes do add appreciably to the depth and development of the narrative; these are:
***SPOILER ALERT IF YOU DON'T KNOW THE STORY***
1) Noodles' meeting with the cemetery director, played with chilling coldness by Louise Fletcher - she is just SO sinister that you really feel she is in on the conspiracy and knows exactly who he is, adding to the general atmosphere of betrayal and mystery. Her role is brief but totally memorable.
2) Noodles' initial conversation with the driver on his date with Deborah: this makes it clear that Noodles is well know as a hood and dangerous to cross - thus giving narrative logic to the driver's otherwise inexplicable inaction during the later rape (which I have always felt to be a weak point in the standard version).
3) Noodles' initial meeting with Eve, in which he asks her to play-act being Deborah during sex. This further emphases his love of / obsession with Deborah, as well as explaining how Eve came into the picture (important,as Eve is the first character seen in the movie).
4) The penultimate scene, between Max and Treat William's union boss Jimmy; a brilliant scene which makes clear what was otherwise left ambiguous - ie that Jimmy is now totally corrupt and completely part of the Syndicate. This gives resonance to dialogue between the various characters in the earlier scene in the hospital room, following Jimmy's shooting ("you guys achieved more in one afternoon than I've achieved in three years of talking"; "he won't have clean hands for much longer after the hands he's gonna shake"). This scene is also the only one in the movie where Secretary Bailey is addressed directly as 'Max' (just in case we still had any doubt about that rather crucial plot point).
*** END OF SPOILER ALERT***
The only criticism I have is the woeful lack of extras on the UK BR release. This film deserves better.
But it still gets 5 stars in my book. It's such an amazing movie in terms of acting, scope, production values, music, cinematography, sets and set-pieces .. and of course the brilliant script.
Inexcusibly neglected by the Oscars.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 4 August 2011
Some might be interested in knowing that Sergio Leone's sons have recently reacquired - for the italian market - the rights for this masterpiece, and are proceding to a full restoration in order to produce (rumor has it, in 2012) the Director's Cut originally intended by Leone.
Meaning, more than FOURTY additional minutes of footage - originally cut due to the length of the movie - will be re-integrated. I don't know about you, but I've been hoping for years this would happen.
The restoration will probably be supervised by some big name, most likely Scorsese or Tarantino, but that's just rumors for the time being.
Guess I'll be waiting to purchase that blu-ray...
UPDATE 16/10/2012: and here we go! The 7th of December 2012 is the scheduled release date for the restored Director's Cut of OUATIA. Later on, it will be released a boxset including both of the film versions...
UPDATE 17/12/2012: and... the Director's cut blu-ray sucks. They had the genius of stuffing a 4 1/2 hour long movie, with multiple hd tracks, onto a single BD. Compression and artifacts are all over the place. Idiots. I'll wait for a new release, respectful of Leone's art.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
NB: As is Amazon's Wont, they've very unhelpfully bundled all the reviews for various editions and formats together. This review refers to the Italian Blu-ray release of the new extended edition that premiered at Cannes in 2012 and WHV's Blu-ray and DVD of the 229-minute version released in Europe.
Once Upon a Time in America is one of those films that seems to gain in stature with each viewing - indeed, it's one of the few films to match a great novel for complexity, and can be interpreted in a number of ways. In many ways it's a film where you have to choose for yourself which interpretation is the right one, as it can support several: a memory, a fable about resurrection (certainly the first thing he sees on his return to New York is the dead being raised from a cemetery by trucks), a tableaux of American social history, even just a simple gangster saga that's surprisingly light on violence for its running time (though what there is is vicious). I've always regarded the film as being about the way we reinterpret our memories depending on our present circumstances (thus the lowest point of Noodles' life becomes, in the final shot, the happiest once he knows the truth), but on subsequent viewing noticed far more evidence to support the opium dream interpretation that Leone floated without ever committing himself to. Certainly everything in the final scene outside Senator Bailey's house points to it: the garbage truck with 35 (the number of years Noodles has been `going to bed early'), the Chinese pagoda in the background, the drunken revellers celebrating the end of prohibition (in 1968!) are all pulling him back to the Chinese opium den as if he were coming down from a trip. I doubt there is a right or a wrong interpretation - it's all in the eye of the beholder. And the filmmaking is still incredibly ambitious and effective - huge chunks of the film are dialog-free, carried by performance, camera and Morricone's yearning score, while there's been nothing to match the sheer audacity of the phone call sequence in the three decades since it was made.
And now, after decades of rumours and false starts, not to mention the multiple cut American versions that existed over the years, the almost-complete extended version of Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America finally reaches Blu-ray and DVD, albeit only in Italy at the moment. Thankfully the disc is English-friendly, with English soundtrack and subtitle options as well as Italian. Not so thankfully the now 250-minute film has been put on one extras-free single disc with very disappointing picture quality considering the restored version was originally mastered in 4k. While you expect to make allowances for the 22 minutes or so of restored footage - though perhaps not quite as many as are needed here - the same shouldn't be said of the rest of the film, but sadly the inconsistent picture quality is at times a bit substandard for Blu-ray, lacking detail, not coping well with shadows in some scenes and with very different colour grading to the 229-minute theatrical version that gives it a kind of metallic sepia tone that will be recognisable to any of the film's fans who saw the lavish large promotional brochure for the film that has become a collector's item. But for now, Warner's uncharacteristically substandard disc is the only game in town if you want to see the longest version of the film.
Strictly speaking this isn't quite a director's cut, and not just because it's been restored by Leone's children from his own cutting notes. The 229-minute version was his preferred version, but he planned to incorporate the deleted scenes into a longer version for European TV that got abandoned in the wake of the film's disastrous initial reception. There's nothing here that's essential to the story or which adds much to the film: this is more a version for people who love the film and want more. Louise Fletcher's restored scene at the cemetery is fairly redundant and not particularly well played (it also boasts quite atrocious picture quality), Elizabeth McGovern's Katherine Hepburnesque death scene from Antony and Cleopatra tends to slow the picture down and much of the rest is filling in gaps: in this version, Noodles is a witness to the car bomb that kills a senate hearing witness, while his relationship with Darlanne Fluegel is much more fleshed out (albeit awkwardly placed after the rape scene), underlining his sexual immaturity. There's a brief exchange with his chauffeur about the Nazis and Jews ("Jews don't have to be like Italians and look up to criminals") but it's clear that producer Arnon Milchan's performance led to that being cut from the film. The longest addition is a final scene with Treat Williams' Jimmy Hoffa-like union boss and James Woods that shows how the balance of power between the two has shifted, but while it's interesting it spells out too much of what's coming in the finale and is a bit redundant.
The greatest strengths remain those of the 229-minute version: the elegiac mood, the unhurried visual storytelling that makes such an impression in the opening of the film in particular, the ambitious structure shifting between three different time periods as it follows the workings of its anti-hero's memory, the details whose importance don't become apparent until a second viewing such as the bricked up door in the bar, Ennio Morricone's melancholy and yearning score, and the excellent performances from De Niro when he still cared about his work, James Woods and the underpraised child actors who do such an impressive job of embodying the actors who will play the gang in the main body of the film. It's what we've already seen that makes the film such a spellbinding and surprisingly rich and complex experience for those who are on its wavelength. Yet while there are no great revelations and no great transformations in this extended version, it's still a must for lovers of the film. It's just a shame that this version hasn't been mastered on home video with the kind of care and attention it deserves.
By comparison, Warner's release of the 229-minute director's cut comes with an audio commentary, 19-minute extract from documentary Once Upon a Time - Sergio Leone, stills gallery and theatrical trailer - though be warned that that for no good reason the DVD version has a terrible side-break (unlike the BD, the DVD is spread over two discs), especially for a film with an intermission that would have been so much more appropriate.
EDIT: It has to be said that there has been some very, very slight improvement over the original Italian Blu-ray release, but nothing dramatic enough for people not to be disappointed by the quality of the restored scenes. It's more or less the same restoration - the only difference in content is the restoration credits, which are in English - but with slight differences in grading. Louise Fletcher's scene has more of a slight green tinge to it rather than the slight sepia in the Italian pressing, though the other additional scenes such as the Cleopatra death scene are very similar. For the rest of the film I'd give the US/UK issue the edge: there's not much difference in definition, but the grading, while still different from the original release, seems very slightly less noticeable on a side-by-side comparison.
Unlike the Italian Blu-ray, it also has extras - the film's US trailer, which includes some shots from the extended version, and the longer international trailer as well as the same documentary extract from the earlier release, but no audio commentary from the previous European theatrical release version since it will no longer fit with the restored footage. While the UK has a single disc release, the region-free US collector's edition offers both cuts of the film (the new extended version on one disc, the previous Blu-ray version of the European theatrical cut on the other) with a Blu-ray-sized hardback book inside the slipcase.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 6 January 2009
Sergio Leone's final "labour of love" is a lost paradise regained to be redeemed in the realms of time and existence ,as it was almost ruined by the negligence of the "studio system" and for me this is 229 minutes of pure nirvana on dvd.
Possibly the best movie ever from America and culminating the "neo classic" genre with "avant garde"cinema ,almost like Caravaggio would merge with Manet in a metaphor for the highest achievement in art,where American technique and European narrative merge in the epic story set in the era of Depression and Prohibition ,as the script entails the life and ventures of four Jewish hoodlums through almost four decades in astonishingly realistic style in the authentic period details of real locales of Manhattan and Brooklyn .
Leone leaves no stone unturned and it is delightful to see most it being acclaimed as a masterpiece as indeed everything from the haunting unforgettable musical score to the emotionally scarring theme of lost youth and unrequited love is imbued with haunting memories of the past in a very affective flashback technique where the past and present are juxtaposed in a poignant manner without revealing any plot details till the last frame itself .
Every character is portrayed brilliantly in every glorious frame with De Niro at his charismatic best as is the rest of the cast with James Woods stealing the show as the extrovert and the most ruthless of the four friends ,and Elizabeth McGovern giving the perfect impression of a cold and sophisticated classical beauty playing a Broadway star actress .
But it is Leone himself who surpasses every maker in recent times to give cinema a virtual jewel in the crown,this hallmarks the final arrival of style and realism from europe to embrace the gloss and energy of American cinema,this also marks the spirit of an artist who withstood the studio onslaughts to bring home his swansong'
The New York Jewish mafia has never looked so menacing and yet so originally empatic in their motivation sweeping through Prohibition as they murder and torture their way chasing their own demons in a fraternal gang with a relevant account of "labour unions" and the "corrupt NYPD" .
The fragmented memories of an old man,played in present by DeNiro, who is revisiting his lost love and deceptive friends ,after an imprisoned exile sets a haunting tone which will always echo in your soul as it is sensitivity embalmed in the world of crass crime and corruption .
The mystery that lost love can be so enchanting is explored enigmatically by Leone with a musical score that sets a landmark for cinema as it even exceeds the classical " Doctor Zhivago "in its operatic style and harmonious mood enhancing the atmosphere ,paying a huge tribute to the talent of the Italian maestro 'Ennio Morricone' .
The meticulous recreation of "Opium dens" and street gang wars in the back alleys of Brooklyn with "elegant waltzing" on island piers and forced sexual encounters in backseats of plush hired limousines are indeed great cinema which is a magnum opus of blood and sweat set with alluring style and scorching genius .
The four friends and their quaint and endearing friendship fascinates in every fragment and frame and it explores male camaraderie and the psychological affects of greed on fraternity as it influences human conscience.
A refreshing masterpiece on "organised crime "mingled with a hearbreaking human drama encompassing a lost era which is immensely watchable at all times in all moods .
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
OUATIA is an epic film in every sense. It follows the life of 'Noodles' (Robert De Niro) from early adolesense to adult and then as an older man discovering the truth about his past that he thought was dead and buried.
The cast are superb with DeNiro and James Woods as Max (at his most charismatic) playing the two leading roles roles. In the fact if anything the sections with the younger actors playing the adolesent Noodles and Max were probably even better.
Leone's view of the American gangster era is a little more poetic than say Goodfellas and The Godfather. The pace of this film is more measured. Its beautifully shot and a wonderful looking film. When the violence happens though, it is as viseral as anything you will find in those other two great gangster films. In particular there are two rape scenes, which whilst not that explicit tell you a lot about 'Noodles' attitude to women.
One of the characters in the film is called James Conway O'Donnell (as displayed in the cast list), but he is referred to as Jimmy Conway in the film. Interestingly Jimmy Conway was DeNiro's character in Goodfellas.
For me its just short of 5 stars. The reason is the length. At three hours and 40 minutes its just too long. I felt that it could have been trimmed a little (say 20 mins) and the film would have a little sharper. But this is a very minor critcism of what is otherwise a superb film.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 14 January 2015
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Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, with no exaggeration, is one of the most moving and potent cinematic experiences that I have ever had. It's a combination of everything that made me love the cinema: Immaculate cinematography, wonderful direction, a tight and free-flowing screenplay, consummate acting with underlying themes woven throughout the film, pitch-perfect editing, incredible performances......
This film has EVERYTHING.
Overall, Once Upon a Time in America is one of the most potent and daring cinematic accomplishment that I have ever laid eyes on. More than just a gangster film, Sergio Leone weaves a tale about life, love, sex, betrayal, friendship, and death; culminating in a passionate and commanding masterpiece.