Sergio Leones epic coming-of-age crime saga has been screaming out for a high definition transfer since the birth of blu-ray, not only for its stunning cinematography but because blu-ray is the only format that can contain Once Upon a Time in Americas epic three hour fifty minute running time! Making a seamless transition from the western to the gangster genre, Sergio Leone undertook what is probably still the most thorough and thought-provoking depiction of prohibition era criminality ever exposed to celluloid. Documenting a fifty year journey for its central character Noodles (Robert De Niro) - Once Upon a Time in America delves more darkly and deeply into the spiral-like path of becoming an underworld icon. The film moves back and forth from Noodles childhood where he meets his life long friend and criminal partner Max (James Woods) to the height of power in prohibition era New York to his contemplative old age. Filled with everything from regret to retribution Noodles returns after decades in hiding to try to make sense of the complicated life he lead as a young man. For those that have seen the film or heard hearsay about Leones masterpiece, everything we see about Noodles and Maxs rise to power can be interpreted as an drug-induced dream with the films opium den scenes acting like bookends to Noodles illusion. Its one of the all time moments in cinema where you realise the director may have masterfully masked the films true narrative. Regardless of whether it was real or dreamt, it is captivating cinema. Perhaps what is even more confusing than its subject matter is that Once Upon a Time in America, a film that balanced an endearing coming-of-age drama with stunning violence and narrative complexity, received not a single Oscar nomination. Ennio Morricones sensational score swings delicately between the grandeur of the story and the subtle hints of comedy and true romance that underline the crime saga. If there were ever a retrospective Oscars ceremony Once Upon a Time in America would be first in line for almost every category. Performances peak with the growing friction between Noodles and Max as young men who struggle to control their overwhelming amount of financial and political power. However the childhood scenes set in turn-of-the-century New York are just as dazzling. Young Noodles (Scott Tiler) and Young Max (Rusty Jacobs) dont just bring a striking resemblance to both De Niro and Woods but also two stunning performances. Leones transition from decade to decade are so seamless that you noticing the change of cast is momentary before youre thrust straight back into the engrossing storyline
Once Upon a Time in America can be seen as the precursor to IMAX too as Tonino Delli Collis cinematography is simply jaw-dropping and iconic in cinematic history. Particularly with 1900 New York, Colli set a benchmark of how to shoot a city landscape. The image of the young boys skipping down back streets with the beautiful backdrop of Manhattan Bridge is breathtaking. Its release on blu-ray allows for true appreciation of Colli and Leones work the panoramic views are enhanced in high definition whilst the near-four hour tale is no longer intruded by a need to switch discs halfway through. Once Upon A Time In America is available on Blu-ray now.