ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST  review
December 31, 2011 · Print This Article
I had high expectations for ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST. I was looking forward all week to watching it Sunday afternoon (appropriate time to watch old westerns). I thought it was the last of the greatest westerns I had yet to see. I can only say I was very disappointed by ONCE UPON. The pacing was horrible, in particular how long scenes were. Nothing is known of any of the characters, who themselves are all aloof. It all felt just too slickly made as well.
Some years ago (had to be pre-December 2005 when I started writing reviews) I watched the Dollars trilogy Sergio Leone did with Clint Eastwood and loved it, especially the first film. I liked the opening of ONCE UPON, with its desolate train station local and use of foley sounds (weather vane spinning, fly buzzing, water dripping) to establish atmosphere. I did become aware though that Leone was certainly taking his time with this scene, a theme of basically every scene to follow, unfortunately.
Charles Bronson is introduced in impressive fashion, with his distinct voice making me hang on every word. The problem was, he spoke too few. When he did engage other characters in conversation, the movie was at its best. I wanted much, much more of that.
The other big flaw of ONCE UPON is very choppy editing, such that it is hard to follow the movie at several points. The story is based around a woman moving out west from New Orleans to be with her new husband and his existing family (three kids). That does not go as plans and she soon finds her path crossing with Bronson and another skilled gunman named Cheyenne. All this time a rich railroad man is seemingly infinitely riding in his fancy train car with a ruthless gun for hire who seems to have some history with Bronson.
There is some plot and intrigue, but again it all develops way too slowly and the aforementioned editing makes it confusing when the woman for example ends up in the hands of the gun for hire. None of the characters are really developed enough to understand their motivations thus I often incorrectly guessed at who was good and who was bad and why one would want to help another. Other times the directing was so poor I thought the woman and Cheyenne already knew each other by how they were acting.
The soundtracks to the Dollars trilogy is famous, and rightfully so. Here, I thought much of the score was overproduced and sounded like an opera, or even a soap opera. It definitely comes on too strong and is too intrusive in the viewing experience. At times it was almost like a spoken narration it was so pronounced.
The 2 hour 45 minute running time is definitely 45 minutes too long. With some editing and a few additional scenes to make the story flow smoother and characters to develop further, this could be great a movie because I really liked Bronson’s character, I just did not get enough of him in ONCE UPON as it is.