Thursday, November 17, 2011

"Once Upon a Time in the West" quite possibly, the best western ever made

TITLE: "Once Upon a Time in the West"
DIRECTOR: Sergio Leone
STARS: Henry Fonda, Claudia Cardinale, Jason Robards, Charles Bronson
EDITOR: Nino Baragli
AWARDS: National Film Registry (2009)
BOX OFFICE: $5,321,508 (USA)
RUN TIME: 165 min.

Three men's lives collide around the fate of one woman, during the railroad boom of the old West. Frank (Fonda), a merciless killer, Cheyenne (Robards), a tired crook, and Harmonica (Bronson), a quiet man with a dangerous past, must face off in a ruthless world of espionage, money, and women.

Sergio Leone's first American film, while a box office success internationally, did not fare well upon its initial release in the United States. This colored its critical reception as well, and the film was somewhat panned upon release. Throughout the 70's and 80's, many film historians, filmmakers, and cult audiences found the film again and fell in love. Like many a classic film, it took years to recognize how incredible it was. 

Leone took his signature style from his Dollars Trilogy (which starred Clint Eastwood as the Man With No Name), and created, perhaps, a better film. Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, George Lucas, and Baz Luhrman are among some of the directors that cite this film as a major influence. Many of their films show direct influence, including: "Kill Bill" (2003), "Inglorious Basterds" (2009), "Australia" (2008), and even Sam Raimi's "The Quick and the Dead" (1995).

One of the crowning achievements of this film is that is was included in the National Film Registry in 2009, assuring its permanent preservation in the National Archives.

The biggest challenge to get over in this film is its length. Perhaps it could be argued that it is overlong. This writer would disagree. The music and setting are almost as much of living characters, as the roles the actors play.

Ennio Morricone's score is iconic, and the breathtaking landscapes are beautiful. Both together add a flavor to this film that is not soon forgotten. Long scenes, filled with open shots, and little dialogue leave the viewer to discover the world within the film themselves. By the time it's over, they feel as much a part of the west as the railroads, or six shooters.

A complex plot, is made easy to follow by the no-less-than-iconic performances by Bronson, Robards, and Fonda (who was famously cast against type as the antagonist of this film). This is a nearly perfect movie, and is an absolute must for anyone to see. It would be hard to be considered a fan of westerns, if one had not seen this film yet. For all others, do yourself a favor and watch it immediately.

MY IMDb RATING:  10 out of 10

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