4.5, United States/Canada

Once Upon a Time in the West

1968 / Sergio Leone > Most of us who grew up in the 80s only knew Charles Bronson as the man who answered your Death Wish, but before that came the man who stood tall against screen-legend Henry Fonda in Once Upon a Time in the West. Now, I’m not generally a big fan of Westerns—I have a hard time identifying with them, especially the setting and rural lifestyle. But that definitely didn’t keep me from respecting what may be the finest film I’ve ever seen in the genre. Unlike The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, everything here just fits. The long shots linger, making sure we notice Fonda’s gray hair and blue eyes, the glean in Bronson’s squint as he plays the harmonica, the hidden softness beneath Jason Robards’ beard and the mystique of Italian beauty Claudia Cardinale. The story develops in a calculated manner, and then deconstructs itself in a near mirror image. Ennio Morricone’s score is subtler, but still comforts every scene with its soothing touch. But most importantly, there’s a sense of moral ambiguity. Nobody’s outright good or bad, and everybody’s got a bit of the ugly in them.