Jan 4th, 2008, 05:59 PM
Why I hated "Once Upon A Time in America"
Those of you who were into cowboy movies at any time in your life are familiar with Sergio Leone, the director of such classics as "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" as well as "A Fistful of Dollars" and "A Few Dollars More." He created the Man With No Name, and re-vitalized the western as a viable film genre, turning what had been kill-the-Indians kiddie flicks into true classics with worldwide appeal.
But not a lot of casual fans know that he also directed a number of other films that were not westerns and were not shot in Spain with Italian dialogue. One of them is "Once Upon A Time In America," a four-hour behemoth of a film that was his baby. He was allowed to do basically anything he wanted in this story about a young Jewish gang that turns into a grand crime syndicate during the course of prohibition.
But if you ask me, because Leone had so much power and prestige that no one dared tell him if what he was doing was wrong. And the critics loved the film, and it won lots of awards, so no one is ever willing to admit there's things wrong with the film. But there are. And I, being irreverent and not a paid movie critic, am not afraid to point them out:
-The movie begins with the main character being haunted by a phone call he made that turned in his friends to the cops, because they were going to make a suicide run on the Federal Reserve Bank, but they ended up all being killed instead of sent to jail. So the movie begins with a montage of the rest of the movie, combined with a ringing phone call. Excepting the fact that he MADE the phone call and thus would not have heard a phone ring, you spend the first ten minutes of the film watching a montage you don't understand while listening to a phone ring. Ten. Minutes. Of. Phone. Ringing. The ring of a telephone is precisely calibrated to annoy you, so that you will pick up the phone and answer it even if you don't want to. So ten minutes of it is agonizing. I started checking all my computers to see if some flash ad was running, because it seems like such an idiot thing to do that no film director with so much experience would actually do it.
-There's way too much rape. Now, I've seen films with a good deal of rape in them (both porno and not) but this film has at least three instances of rape in it, and in each case, he shows us THE ENTIRE RAPE. Now most directors know that rape is astoundingly unsexy to watch because the girl is fighting the whole time (this is why girls in hentai who get raped always really get into it physically even if they keep begging for it to stop). I understand that he's just trying to show that the rapist is an evil, not-good person, but do you really need to show us a woman being raped for five to ten minutes of screen time? Show us enough so we know what's going on, then pan away or cut to the next scene.
-Gaping baby cunt. There's a scene in which the gang takes revenge on a crooked cop by switching babies around in the maternity ward, so that the sexist cop's first son (he has four daughters whom he doesn't care for) is swapped out with a girl. This is revealed when the cop changes the baby's diaper and we see a gaping baby vagina. Which we really didn't need to see. Seriously. I don't wanna see the naughty bits of any human under the age of 18. Couldn't you make it clear what's happened another way?
-Really, REALLY long establishing shots. Whenever there is a scene change, you will stare at the new scene until you can make out every detail. I haven't seen establishing shots this long since we stared at Maala's house in "The Star Wars Holiday Special." You can get away with this in westerns, thanks to the beautiful scenery, but the interior of a house with some people sitting in it is not near as interesting.
-Meaningful glances that go on forever. Several times in the film, you will look at an actor, then look at another one, and then look back at the first one, and so on. They never blink, or speak, or move. You know that there's something going on, but you've got it figured out way before they go to the next scene. And there's no "money shot." Leone did this a lot in Westerns, but they always ended with someone being shot, or stabbed, or punched, or whatever. The reason they were staring at each other and not doing anything is because you were building up the drama before a brutal fight. Not so here. It's like that "Yuri Simulator" flash game, where all you can do is exchange meaningful glances and a little handholding.
-The whole movie is a dream, or more specifically, an opium-induced hallucination. Never mind that opium doesn't really cause hallucinations, nor that you might wonder why an American jew would go into a Chinese opium den to get shitfaced. How many times have you sat through a long movie and then been frustrated to find out that none of it was "real?" I know that I've always thought that's the cheapest, dumbest way to end a movie, especially since its done so you don't have to bother to tie up any loose ends or anything.
There are other things I could whine about, but I'm done now. If you wanna watch a Leone film, pick up something with Clint Eastwood in it. No one says his lines in Italian and then dubs them over in English like he does.