I have never really thought of Robert De Niro as much of an Italian, but as more of a philistine working-class Jew. In Once Upon A Time In America, De Niro does a brilliant job playing the Rapist Jew Noodles. Noodles is a man who seems unable to truly get close with anyone, including his best friend Max and his life-long love interest Deborah. Of course, Noodles cannot be blamed for his criminal behavior and unconventionally smooth antisocial tendencies, for he is a product of a particular time and place. Noodles has turned into a man already in his early childhood/teenage years, killing an older mafia hood named Bugsby and even stabbing a cop, but those are just the consequences when playing rough. After serving time and getting out of jail as an adult, Noodles is even less emotional towards people in his personal life and more importantly whilst committing crucial crimes. Despite his peculiar form of criminal stoicism throughout his whole life, Noodles appropriately comes to terms with his dubious history in an elegant manner at the end of Once Upon A Time In America, making him a rapist and murderer one cannot help but like. Noodles uses words sparingly, but what the few words he does choose to use tell more than the most revealing of biographies.
The real dirty psychopath Yid of Once Upon A Time In America is mafia mastermind Max. Like many of the top IQ individuals members of his kinfolk, Max suffers from a form megalomaniac madness that helps him to be a real top criminal. Noodles maybe a rapist and killer, but he certainly plays the game of morality more nicely than his bandit buddy Max. By the end of Once Upon A Time In America, it becomes very clear that Max was always a one-man team, just using his partners as temporary tools for personal gains. Unfortunately for Max, he is well aware of his insanity (and well aware of his late Father's) and does not take kindly to Noodles telling him that he is 'crazy.' Crazy is as crazy does, but Max does it fairly successfully, going from a poor Ghetto Jew to one of the richest businessmen/politicians in America. Max is a wonderful symbol for what it truly takes to become success in America, a purist in regards to achieving the much sentimentalized "American dream."
I find most epics to be epically disappointing, films full of aesthetic fireworks yet lacking in solid and rich storytelling. Once Upon A Time In America maybe be the most complete and richly layered story ever told in the form of masterly crafted celluloid. A lot of the great and legendary auteur filmmakers end their careers on a weak note, no longer capable of the same artistic vitality that made them brilliant filmmakers. Sergei Leone is certainly an exception to this unfortunate trend of legendary directors burning out. As a master dictator auteur, Sergei Leone died with his boots on, proving to Hollywood and the world that artistic integrity will always stand the test of time in comparison to mere highly financed technical innovation. After all, who else could have created the brilliant work that is Once Upon A Time In America, one of the most American films ever made directed by a cultural outsider.