There are Westerns, and then there is Sergio Leone. He is in another class all to himself, peerless, without equal. Normally, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that his level is higher than any other, as if to infer that Leone’s films are better than just about any other of its kind, but one can’t help but have this belief instilled after watching a film like Once Upon a Time in the West, Leone’s second-last, and arguably greatest, Western. What camp there was in films like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly is gone, and nothing but perfectionism and flawlessness remains. Even with the length, this film is easily worth its weight in gold.
I could be remiss in saying that everything in this film is downright perfect, but I’m still going to say it. Right from the opening scene, Leone’s masterful pacing begins to work its magic; the opening is little more than three guys waiting in a train station, but for some mystical reason you can’t help but be enthralled; at least, I was. From there, I was eased into a tale grand and epic in scope, as well as length, but it never once felt like it dragged – Leone was merely an expert at pacing the film exactly the way he wanted it to be. The acting was remarkable across the board, particularly from Henry Fonda, who is beautifully cast against type as the ruthless killer simply named Frank. The cinematography was exquisite, from the landscapes to the tiniest details in the indoor shots, every shot was just a masterwork of framing, composition, and movement. The script was exceptional; rising and falling and twisting and turning with the characters, always snapping and crackling along with the twigs. Of course, the film is helped along immensely by the swooping and emotional score, one of Ennio Morricone’s best. The only flaw I could find was that the overdubbing on some, very little, of the dialogue wasn’t perfect, but this was only on some of the dialogue, and it was extremely rare to be found; indeed, I could have gone through the whole film and not given it a second care were it not for a single example that stood out enough in my mind to make me pay attention for it more.
This is the type of film that makes me wish I could twist my ratings scale up to 11, just for those special bits of movie magic that are utterly, inescapably sublime, as well as flawless technically, but I can’t denigrate the 10s I’ve already given. Just rest assured, if there was such a thing as a 10+ rating, I would be giving it to this film. Of all the hundreds of films I have seen from the list so far, this is easily in my top three. If you love cinema in any way, watch this film, and if you dislike it, well, I don’t really know what to do with you.
Arbitrary Rating: 10/10