Monday, January 14, 2008

Sergio Leone's Last Great Discovery

ONCE UPON IN AMERICA (1984) is my favorite Sergio Leone film and, to go even further, is one of the finest films I have ever seen. It is a film that has become more and more rewarding with each passing year and I can't imagine ever getting tired of its complex nature and narrative.
I love every aspect of the film but I think might my favorite scenes might be the remarkable moments where we are transported back in time to see Noodles and his gang as children. Cinematically these moments are handled in such an exquisite way, and they remain some of the only scenes in any film that actually feels like memory. For whatever reason, whether it is the way Leone and Tonino Delli Colli shot these moments or the way that Ennio Morricone's unmatchable and beautiful score is aligned with them, these shots remain some of the most profound and personal that I have ever seen.

Of course this section of the film also introduced us to the wonder that is Jennifer Connelly. Discovered by Leone just after her 13th birthday (she only had one small television credit at that point) and hired on to play the key role of the young Deborah after successfully auditioning with Robert De Niro himself, Connelly is unforgettable in the handful of scenes she appears in. I would argue that it is these moments between her and the young Noodles that more than anything else gives the film the devastating emotional impact it has.

The film, Leone's last and Jennifer's first, is every bit as good to me as THE GODFATHER or any other great epic gangster film you'd care to name. Jennifer would follow up the film working for another great Italian legend, but more on that later this week.
Here is a clip of Jennifer talking about Leone. Unfortunately James Lipton cuts her off before she is able to say a lot, but the experience obviously remains a special one to her. I have a feeling she wanted to speak a lot more on it.


Steve Langton said...

Terrific post. If I had to pick 2 films to take with me to a desert island, I'd choose ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA and THREE COLOURS:RED. I'm at a loss to nominate my favourite moments in the Leone film, but I've always been particularly taken with the scene where Max asks Noodles to shoot him. This really is De Niro at the top of his game. Also love the part where Noodles is asked what he's been doing during his 'gap years' and he simply replies, "Going to bed early". Simple, but those words convey the heartache superbly. Connelly is a wonderfully gifted actress, and I'll never forget her performance in REQUIEM FOR A DREAM. I caught the UK prem of this at the London Film Festival, where myself and a group of friends went in not really knowing too much about the film. Needless to say, it was all we could do to raise ourselves out of the seats by the end. A truly brave performance from Connelly.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Steve,
totally agree with everything you have said here. De Niro has never gotten his due for Noodles in my eyes. It is one of his great performances...

Cinebeats said...

Great film and Connelly is terrific in it.

I last saw her in the Dark Water remake, and even though the movie was just so-so, she was really wonderful in it and she really kept me engrossed in the film.

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Kimberly,
I really love her work in the DARK WATER remake. The film itself isn't as strong as the original but her performance is really touching and, to my eyes at least, really elevates the film.
Great to hear from you...thanks for the comment.

Rogue Spy 007 said...

This is a great film. I love it. I've watched it many times over the years. It's one of the finest films in my opinion. De Niro is magnificent in it. Jennifer was a breath of fresh air. She was so wonderful in her role. It was a sign of good things to come from her. I do think that De Niro deserves more credit and recognition for this film that he's gotten. I saw Jennifer in Dark Water. The film itself is not as good as the original, but Jennifer makes it worthwhile watching.

Joe said...

Let me be the last person to board this bus and say that I also love Jennifer Connelly. This goes back to high school and Career Opportunities, when even in a goofy K-Mart movie it was obvious that this woman had allure that went beyond her peers.

I admire the way Connelly has never gotten out in front of her movies - in spite of appearing on the Lipton show - and gone about her career in a very professional, Jodie Foster-like manner. In fact, I would go as far to say Connelly is the Foster of the '80s and '90s.

Great post, Jeremy. I may devote December 2008 to writing about nothing but Connelly films at This Distracted Globe, unless I get a girlfriend between now and then.