Once Upon a Time in America is one of the craziest films ever made. It was the final film of Sergio Leone’s legendary career and the only film he completed in the last thirteen years of his life.
He originally wanted the film to be split into two three-hour features but the studio told him he had to cut it into one film. Leone cut it down to 269 minutes but the studio was not satisfied with his attempts at shortening it. He conceded to a 229-minute version but the American version was further cut without his permission to 139 minutes.
The result of the cuts was mass confusion amongst audiences. If the confusion wasn’t enough, the film was further censored for explicit content. It wasn’t until 2012 that the restored 255-minute version was made available to the public — which is a shame because it’s such a terrific film.
It’s a decades-spanning story of friendship and loyalty in the mob in New York City. De Niro gives one of the best performances of his career as a conflicted, opium sick, mobster dreamer. Some of the content is extremely heavy and pushes the boundary, even for a gangster film. But when all is said and done, the full cut of Once Upon a Time in America is one of the top five best gangster movies of all-time.