A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action, while attempting to liberate a twelve-year-old prostitute.
Robert De Niro,
According to an interview with Stuart Kaminsky on the Special Edition DVD, the outline that was given to him was around two hundred pages. Kaminsky was asked by Sergio Leone to fill in the dialogue in the two hundred-page outline. Kaminsky came back with a draft that was four hundred pages long, and Leone read all four hundred pages of the draft in front of Kaminsky as soon as it was given to him. See more »
When Deborah is a child her eyes are brown; when she is an adult they are blue. 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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I concede that the film is well made and quite intricate in its structure (and that it takes time and patience to attempt to come up with an explanation for the unfathomable gray areas in the screenplay). Leone evidently had an eye for detail, composition, lighting and camera movement. I am sure that no-one will deny that the technical side of the film was handled with care and it does show.
The screenplay is a mess. I expect to be lambasted by angry fans that will claim that I am an unimaginative watcher and would like all aspects of plot and character explained to me instead of having to think and immerse myself. Fine. I also know that art defies easy definition, and that all the best art in the world offers itself up to multiple interpretations. Fine. I maintain that Leone is being wilfully obscure in his attempts to cover up the head-scratch-inducing narrative techniques that he conjures up. He does so by claiming an opium/dream logic: some kind of remembrance of childhood and prohibition (an immutable, fixed past) as well as a progressive imagining (regarding the "future") on the part of the focaliser Noodles as he lies in the opium den. This may not be the case as he could not possibly know of the exact styles, decor and music of the sixties without having lived through them to some extent. So here we have an organic problem with the screenplay: claims to dream logic to confuse and inspire debate regarding the plot's many unsure points (e.g. was that Max in the dumpster? How Why? What does that wry smile at the end mean? Etc. Was it all a dream of the past and possible future?) counterpoised with the impossibility of this evident in the physical and cultural environment presented to us in the visuals. This, to me, is just vague and sloppy. It is not just a case of great art being unfathomable, it is a case of sloppy art trying to be unfathomable. Take that incessant telephone sound and its related imagery. Did Leone himself know what effect he was trying to achieve when he put it in there? I would say yes in one respect: in order to mystify his audience. I do not think that it stands for much more than that. Perhaps also to establish the confusing and ultimately untenable nature of the film's time structure (he is literally 'calling into the past') and it's relation to Noodle's 'dream' (which the film quite clearly can not be).
Also, the film's attitude towards women is just plain nasty, containing two of the screens most unapologetic rape scenes. We could claim that it is merely the nasty attitude of our enigma focaliser Noodles. He most obviously is not a very nice guy when it comes to women and the film does present itself as an exploration of his singular consciousness (if it is a dream). To put it crassly: he is nasty to women so the film has also got to be nasty to women if it claims to be deeply related to his attitudes and point of view. If it is a film of dream and imaginings, then certainly Noodle's dream is mutable (as we know all dreams are) and what he 'does' to the characters played by Tuesday Weld and Elisabeth McGovern is heightened by his desire and imagination. This is the only way in which to explain why Tuesday Weld's character seems to enjoy rape, that it is Noodles imagining her enjoying the rape. This is vague, but it at least validates the epic romanticization that pervades this ugly world (of which rape is only a part) when the main character is an absolute lout: it is him who romanticizes it. This is a sneaky way around a touchy subject. But, as has been established by many, this world may not be a dream- back to that inconsistency in the plot. Is it? Isn't it? If not then there is not much of an excuse for the rape sequences.
The dialogue is also slightly off, too often it sounds stiff and mechanical, and it is too self-consciously scripted to sound like naturalistic street parlance. Ennio Morricone's score is alright. It is evocative in places (when he sticks to the minimalist piano melody) and far too saccharine in others (that pan pipe stuff I find grating and kitsch).
So to be sure, it is a complex film. It is a rewarding film. It requires more than one watching. It falls far short from a masterpiece, though. Too inconsistent when it should be incisive. It bears the marks of a troubled production and evidence of Leone himself not quite knowing what to do with the beast he had created.
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