Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Flick of The Day: GoodFellas

The gangster movie has been a cornerstone of cinema since before there was a Hollywood. From early classics like Little Caesar and The Public Enemy in the 1930's to Coppola's The Godfather and Scorsese's Mean Streets in the 70's, it has always been a popular genre. It begs an obvious question, what is the best gangster film of them all? I think the answer to that question is today's flick of the day Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas.
Based on the bestselling book by Nicholas Pileggi, this is the true story of a life in the Mafia. It follows the course of Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, a half Irish half Sicilian who becomes involved with the mob first as an after school job before blossoming into a fully formed gangster, a GoodFella. He falls under the spell of Jimmy Conway, a rising star of the family, played by Robert De Niro and befriends a crazy hot head called Tommy DeVito played by Joe Pesci. Set to a fantastic period soundtrack, the film moves from the early 50's to the 70's to the bitter end of it all in 1980. Together, the three work various scams and heists for local chieftain Paulie Cicero, a star turn from Paul Sorvino. Like all the great stories, this is the story of the rise and fall.
Scorsese has created a work of stunning breadth and ambition. It comes in at nearly 150 minutes and yet breezes by such is the speed and focus of the editing. There are so many high points that they can't be listed from the single continuous take entrance to a nightclub to the snappy quotable dialogue and the vast cast of characters that remain memorable such is the strength of the script.

Henry Hill: You're a pistol, you're really funny. You're really funny. 
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean I'm funny? 
Henry Hill: It's funny, you know. It's a good story, it's funny, you're a funny guy. 
[laughs] 
Tommy DeVito: What do you mean, you mean the way I talk? What? 
Henry Hill: It's just, you know. You're just funny, it's... funny, the way you tell the story and everything. 
Tommy DeVito: [it becomes quiet] Funny how? What's funny about it? 
Anthony Stabile: Tommy no, You got it all wrong. 
Tommy DeVito: Oh, oh, Anthony. He's a big boy, he knows what he said. What did ya say? Funny how? 
Henry Hill: Jus... 
Tommy DeVito: What? 
Henry Hill: Just... ya know... you're funny. 
Tommy DeVito: You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it's me, I'm a little fucked up maybe, but I'm funny how, I mean funny like I'm a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I'm here to fuckin' amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny? 
Henry Hill: Just... you know, how you tell the story, what? 
Tommy DeVito: No, no, I don't know, you said it. How do I know? You said I'm funny. How the fuck am I funny, what the fuck is so funny about me? Tell me, tell me what's funny! 
Henry Hill: [long pause] Get the fuck out of here, Tommy! 
Tommy DeVito: [everyone laughs] Ya motherfucker! I almost had him, I almost had him. Ya stuttering prick ya. Frankie, was he shaking? I wonder about you sometimes, Henry. You may fold under questioning.

The point made throughout the film is that the various characters are in the mob because they like it, it is what drives them. Their various flaws, the frankly psychotic Tommy, the kleptomaniac Jimmy and the easily led Henry are what make them successful gangsters.
It is difficult to underestimate the legacy of GoodFellas, much like Scorsese's previous reinvention of the genre in 1973 with Mean Streets. The creator of HBO's The Sopranos even went so far as to say that "Goodfellas is the Koran for me" and cited it as the film which drove him to create his own masterpiece. The film is a triumph on so many levels. It is not just an account of a life in the Mafia, but a morality play. At the beginning, as Henry and Jimmy follow the rules and pay tribute to their leader Paulie, stay away from drug dealing and avoid murder as a last resort, they begin to prosper. However as the decades move on and they become deeply involved in the drug trade and go against Paulie's wishes, events spiral out of control and lead eventually to their downfall.
I don't think there is anything more that can be said really. It is a fantastic film, packed with stand out performances and perhaps Scorsese's best work as a director. If you haven't already seen it, you really should.

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