For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film will be recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!
Sorry I’ve been away for a few days. I had to go out of town, and I realize that the relentless pace of movie watching that I’ve set for myself is pretty unforgiving. I have the next few days off, and am motivated to catch up and perhaps get ahead. Now on to “Goodfellas.”
How does a movie that focuses on violence, criminal exploits, drug use, sexual philandering–a movie without a truly sympathetic character–how does this movie succeed in pulling a viewer in and making them love it? Watch “Goodfellas” and learn.
Martin Scorsese starts us out in the middle of the story with one of the most violent scenes in the whole film before bouncing back to the chronological beginning. It is as if to say, “If you can make it through this, then you’re gonna be alright.” It is the movie version of a roller-coaster “chicken” exit. The other interesting thing that this first scene does is to show us the single moment where the entire story turns, the moment when the trio of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and the unbelievable Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) all seal their demise.
Scorsese focuses not so much on Hill, but makes Hill’s desire for a life beyond normal a key character. Through voiceover, the viewer becomes attached to a more critical, and perhaps more mature Hill, who lets us know why he wanted to become a gangster, and why in spite of the constant threat of danger, he continued to indulge in the lifestyle.
Within this context, we can see the allure of a life that offers all of the physical trappings that a person could desire. It is not without its drawbacks: Hill says early in the film just after he has taken a brutal beating from his father for not attending school that sometimes you just have to take a beating. He understands that this is part of the deal. But in spite of all of this, the life of a gangster still draws him in.
Scorsese also is able to make his film accessible to his viewers by giving us the character of Karen Hill (Lorraine Bracco). When she enters the story, she is a normal person. She has misgivings about Henry and his lifestyle, but she also is intrigued. She is in much the same position as the viewer. She doesn’t participate directly, but derives benefit from her association with her husband and the other criminals around her. Karen, like us, slowly becomes accustomed to the world around her, until it feels normal.
I guess you could say that “Goodfellas” glorifies violence, but with the stress levels that the main characters endure, it feels more like a film about crooked businessmen trying to make a buck. They are simply trying to enjoy what they can grab for as long as they can get away with it.
More screentime is given to conversations over dinner than violent acts, and a ton of time is spent on characters trying to escape a fate that is closing in on them. We know that everything is going to end badly, and that is why we as viewers don’t choose the life that Hill, Conway, and DeVito have chosen. But still we can all understand, even to a small extent, why that life has appeal. It is, at the very least, more exciting than waking up and getting the newspaper off your front lawn while dressed in a bathrobe.
Next up #91 “Sophie’s Choice.”