Monday, June 18, 2012

Goodfellas Review

With the passing of the infamous mobster Henry Hill at the age of 69, (cancer not getting whacked) instead of posting another obituary I thought it would be appropriate to post my review of Goodfellaswhich is based around his life. I had to write this for my film class a while ago and do a short analysis on it and I'm sure it'll say more about Henry Hill than a biographical summary could, so here it is.

There is good reason behind why Goodfellas (1991) is critically acclaimed as one of the best mob movies ever made. Granted Scorsese in top form directing a true-to-life mob film based on the book Wiseguy: Life in a Mafia Family by Nicholas Pillegi. The book is based on the life of former Mafioso Henry Hill, Pillegi also co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese and both have a clear understanding of the mafia world and create an intriguing and uncomfortable film inside the heart of organized crime. 

The movie opens with a quick scene of brutal violence and is narrated in first person by Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in a flashback of him at 11 years old. He is looking out of a window at the guys with expensive cars and the power they have in the city and says, “as far as I can remember I wanted to be a gangster.” That is what the movie sells the viewer on, the grandeur of the people that run the streets of New York. The movie takes the audience right into the “family” where Hill introduces many people along the way, the most important ones being Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and the head of the ring Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino).

What makes this movie so memorable is the fact that it doesn’t glorify violence with loud shootouts but it works in slow paces of intensity that creep up in the shadows and make it clear early on that anybody can get whacked at any time. Joe Pesci in particular, portrays a loudmouthed, wild cannon that will protect his macho persona at all costs. He walks the line of funny and crazy in several scenes where the audience is confined wondering when his lighting fast temper will flare up again.

The film is also narrated by Hill’s Jewish wife Karen played by Lorraine Bracco, which brings a female perspective that is often left out of these types of films. She explains how all of the mob wives look the same, talk the same and about the same things and she does not feel fully apart of the lifestyle Hill describes passionately, but she is still supportive. Scorsese shoots their struggle in this new life equally, especially when they start getting into cocaine dealing against the don’s orders.

Scorsese captures the time period beautifully with popular music from the era and with shooting the grand opening scenes with POV shots and long pans making a regular entrance into a restaurant, an extravagent event where everyone is happy and everyone knows each other. The atmosphere is the plot of the movie as it follows 20 years of Hill’s life, but the turning point is when Tommy viciously kills a made man, who is supposed to be untouchable. Everything goes downhill from here and there is a sharp contrast into the glamorous and harsh times of mafia life. At one point Hill even says, “I was a part of something…I was living in a fantasy.” 

The film’s tone changes from fantasy to reality many times but during the second act, Hill becomes a fixture of drugs and paranoia. One scene in particular when he is driving across town running errands Hill is scrambling with everything he needs to do and everywhere he goes he sees this helicopter overhead. Everyone tells him that he is just being paranoid, but the sense that it might be following him is there. Then the line between business, friendship and morality is crossed and once the conclusion is reached, Hill is left with a desire to relive those fantasies. 

The film teaches lessons of the glorification of living a life of crime and how one can become alienated in being around that fantasy. The movie can also be shown in a film class for Scorsese’s masterful direction that makes it clear why he is still one of the best filmmakers of recent history.

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