A mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.
Robert De Niro,
The film takes place in 1920, 1932, 1933 and 1968. See more »
In the scene at Miami Beach which takes place in 1933, beach goers are seen playing with beach balls. The beach ball was not invented until 1938. See more »
[In 1933, two goons rudely question a young woman]
Where is he? Where's he hiding?
I don't know... I've been looking for him since yesterday.
[second goon slaps her harshly; she falls onto the bed]
I'm gonna ask you for the last time: Where is he?
I don't know... What are you gonna do to him?
[Two shots are heard]
[to his partner]
Stay here in case that rat shows up...
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Once Upon a Time in America, which bookends Once Upon a Time in the West as director Sergio Leone's best work, is a powerhouse of a movie. A gangster epic told in a very different style than the standard of the genre, The Godfather, it is in some ways (at least to this viewer) even more emotionally compelling. Although the movie was sabotaged upon release by an edited studio version eliminating about 40% of its original length, the version now available for rental is thankfully the nearly 4 hour version intended by Leone. The story is at essence a basic one about friendship among thieves, telling the story of a group of Jewish kids in New York near the turn of the century who grow up to become powerful and ruthless mobsters, while maintaining (or trying to) their bond with one another. As was most famously done in the taxi scene between Rod Steiger and Marlon Brando in On The Waterfront, the movie again makes the point that bad people can have good aspects to them, such as loyalty, devotion, and even love. I think this movie includes one of Deniro's best roles, and far and away James Woods best film work. The score, by arguably the greatest movie composer of all time, Ennio Morricone, is incredibly haunting in its beauty and sadness (with no fewer than three separate themes that are breathtakingly beautiful). The non-chronological manner in which the story is told results in a wonderfully effective narrative device: the movie begins and ends with the same scene. The first time you see the scene, it is a frantic jumble, without meaning or context, and you do not know why it is so important. When the scene recurs at the end of the film, everything has become clear, and the scene has an incredible poignancy and sadness to it: although it occurs in the middle of events chronologically, you realize that, in a real sense, life stopped at this point for one of the film's main characters. There is no other event that matters anymore to him. This is not a simple movie, and it merits repeated viewings. Indeed, in my view one cannot fully appreciate the greatness of the film until the second viewing, when the full story is known, and the events of the film resonate with knowledge of where they ultimately, and tragically, lead.
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