#17: Goodfellas (1990)

When and how did I watch this?

May 16th, 2017, on Amazon.

Had I seen this film already?

Some of it.  It’s well documented now that crime dramas are not my bag, and this never really captured my interest as a kid. I know my mom owned it and watched it a handful of times; I preferred video games.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Robert DeNiro and Ray Liota headline this mafia-based tale.  I don’t remember many of the details. I know of the character introduction because of a sports talk radio show opener, and the “you think I’m funny?” scene involving the edgy Joe Pesci is memorable.

What do I know about it now?

Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster. There’s something alluring about taking what you want and not getting caught doing it — or at least intimidating everyone around you so no one asks any questions. This theme drives Goodfellas; in high-level crime, there’s a fine line between comfortable success and relentless paranoia, and Scorcese paints a brutal picture of this balancing act. We track Hill and two close cooperatives — Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito — through their respective criminal activities and subsequent circumstances.  Jimmy (DeNiro) is a fascinating dude, idolized by Henry early on and seemingly untouchable. Tommy is a loose cannon — and I begin to wonder if Pesci knows how to play any other type — who works as a mop-up guy and eventually crosses the wrong people. We’ve already seen Scarface and Casino, so we know how this turns out: at first, everyone is rolling big, and then the looking over the shoulders and betrayals begin, several people die, and the infrastructure crumbles.  Like the lead in Scarface, Henry succumbs to addiction and he and his spouse can barely function in the end. What separates Goodfellas from the rest has almost entirely to do with the delivery of the content. Liota narrates nearly all of the story with compelling mastery, and the cinematography degenerates from smooth and continuous shots at the beginning to shaky frames and quick cuts as things deteriorate. We feel the tension because of what hasn’t happened yet, and because of the way it’s portrayed before our eyes.

What are some themes in the film?

The mob, crime, paranoia, friendship and betrayal, the power of money/drugs, marriage/infidelity

Did this affect me personally?

A couple of the more violent scenes are no Saving Private Ryan, but they’re executed with vivid and punctuated brutality. Despite some light exchanges between characters at times, the film doesn’t generate much laughter.

Why is this ranked #17?

While the film is something special and worthy of its reverence, I think there’s somewhat of a Scarface effect going on here.  “It’s Goodfellas,” is the rationale for most of its audulation.  To its credit, you can’t go wrong with DeNiro, crime, and some challenging violent scenes. People eat this stuff up. The premise and approach has been imitated and parodied several times since. Memes of the film are everywhere now.  I’m sure this all contributes to its ranking.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She ended up watching most of it, and she appeared to be drawn into the story more so than I was, but the profanity was a big turnoff for her.

Would I watch it again?

Not intentionally.  It’s pretty heavy and the content is not something I’d like to immerse myself in again. I’ll eventually check out the book instead.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

This one requires some serious objectivity, because the content is ugly.  You’re going to hear some record-breaking usage of the F word, blatant drug use, and some grisly violent moments. From a Christian perspective, I don’t think this is worth watching; you can probably read the book or just get the gist of it from a summary. Otherwise, watch at your own risk, and enjoy the ride if possible.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Oh yes. Sermonizing aside, this film reaches brilliance in about five minutes and does not relent. This is Scorcese’s best film — though I personally enjoyed Shutter Island more — and is a landmark achievement in cinema.  The portrayal of these mobsters is so convincing that you wonder who among the people you know might have connections or be involved in something. DeNiro and Liota are absolutely fantastic; Liota’s performance makes his Shoeless Joe Jackson portrayal in Field of Dreams look flat. Full objectivity employed, Goodfellas is worthy of a position as one of the top 20 films ever made.

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