An Epic I’m Supposed To Love

This morning’s movie was Sergio Leone’s Once Upon A Time In America (1984).

I’m not sure if I’ve ever really made it through this (long, long, LONG) movie in its entirety, meaning in one uninterrupted sitting, or if I ever really enjoyed it, but it hasn’t been for a lack of trying.

Since its release on VHS back in the ’80s, I’ve watched it on numerous occasions, each time hoping to “get” the movie so many other folks have been praising as a classic for all these years. I believe the two hours and forty minutes I invested in watching it this morning may be my last such attempt.

I just don’t get the appeal of this movie. I’m not sure I ever really did. I may have hoped to, but one thing about it that just occurred to me is that I’ve never recommended it to anyone.

There are individual scenes throughout that play really well…

…but, overall, it just couldn’t hold my interest. Main problem I have with it? Its characters.

By a certain point in the movie, I just couldn’t empathize or identify with any of these characters. At all. Frankly, I found the majority of them to be either dull, irritating, or repugnant scumbags, mired in narrative tedium.

Because that tedium’s accompanied by a lush Morricone score, exquisite production design, rich cinematography and (mostly) solid acting, that automatically transforms the whole endeavor into something poignant and profound? Sorry. Didn’t happen for me.

Now, I say all this as someone who still loves Leone’s Once Upon A Time In The West and Duck, You Sucker, and as someone capable of enjoying movies about sociopathic organized criminals, whether it’s The Godfather, GoodFellas, Scarface, King Of New York, or The Long Good Friday.

But such stories have to be compelling and well told, at least enough to justify the time I’ll invest in watching the movie. And, I hate to say it, but Once Upon A Time In America positively creaks under the weight of its own pretensions.

And, come on– a running time of four hours and eleven minutes? Please. That’s longer than Cimino’s self-indulgent director’s cut of Heaven’s Gate. I disagree with the view that Leone made a 251-minute motion picture with “no fat in it”.

There’s a lot of fat, as far as I’m concerned. Even worse, the story’s inhabited by too many characters whose scenes you want to fast-forward through because they’re either monotonous, off-putting, or both. (Danny Aiello’s scenes immediately spring to mind).

Because I came to dislike the characters so much, and because of how Leone approached the material, in regards to its content as well as its pace, I found– again, after years of trying and multiple viewing attempts– that this movie, Sergio Leone’s “labor of love”, is nearly impossible for me to enjoy, not even on a superficial level.

In spite of the talent involved and the critical prestige the movie’s garnered over the past thirty-some years, I’d rank Once Upon A Time In America about two notches above Bertolucci’s 1900, another overlong, overratedĀ Epic Endurance TestĀ featuring repellent characters and their awful behavior.

And if that makes me a heretic, so be it.Once Upon Finale Final