The most common (and in many cases the only) complaint against Francis Ford Coppola's 1972 masterpiece THE GODFATHER is glamorizing of Mafia, which is presented as an institution guided by ancient tradition and virtues like honor, loyalty and solidarity more suitable for some gentler, kinder ages. Martin Scorsese, another Italia American moviemaker, confronted that perspective with his own, more down-to-earth vision of Mafia in 1973 MEAN STREETS, movie that dealt with lower echelons of organized crime. Unfortunately for Scorsese, his film was unspectacular and too artsy to compete with Coppola's influence on Mafia portrayals in the movies. Seventeen years later Scorsese returned to mean streets of New York with another film that dealt with darker side of American organized crime. This film was GOODFELLAS, epic black comedy which is today considered as one of the best and most influential films of 1990s.
In best-seller book WISEGUY by Nicholas Pileggi (who would co-write the screenplay for the film). The book, as well as the film, chronicled thirty years in the life of Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta), Irish-Italian criminal from New York. At the age of 13 he gets recruited in the criminal organization of Paulie Cicero (played by Paul Sorvino), local mob boss, and gradually climbs up the ladder starting with small errands. After couple of years, together with his best childhood friend Tommy De Vito (played by Joe Pesci), he joins the crew of expert thieves led by Jimmy Conway (played by Robert de Niro). Three of them spend years as best friends and associates, gathering enormous wealth from their criminal enterprises that would culminate with one of the most spectacular robberies in American history. Wealth, influence and privileges of men connected with Mafia are enough for Henry Hill to seduce his future wife Karen (played by Lorraine Bracco), who would afterwards remain loyal to her husband despite infidelities, domestic abuse, arrests and would even be accomplice to his own private drug dealing business. But the perfect world of "wise guys" gradually begins to fall apart - Tommy's unpredictable outbursts of homicidal violence, Jimmy's reluctance to share his part of the loot with partners and, finally, Henry's own drug habit would lead to his downfall and make him question his loyalty to the friends.
Goodfellas is a great example of a film that represents work of a film genius in his full glory. Scorsese managed to create a vision which is effective and complete despite being full of contradictions that would ripped the film apart in the hands of less talented filmmaker. World depicted in this film is both ordinary and fascinating. Scorsese spares no effort to show us all the violence, hypocrisy and inherent paranoia of organized crime, yet it manages to make it both seductive and funny. After being exposed to two and half hours of the film and three decades of criminal history (based on some notorious real life events), the audience understands why the characters chose such dangerous life paths, trading the superficial and short-lasting glamour and prosperity of a criminal to the dullness and poverty of honest citizens. Scorsese also manages to break viewer's moralistic inhibitions by showing truly revolting material - scenes that depict personal tragedies, broken homes, human depravity, violence, bloodshed and murder - in all their uncompromising reality, but in a manner that would make it amusing and funny to the audience. With the use of ironic soundtrack, manipulative shots, character's dialogue or narrator's commentary, GOODFELLAS represents the new standards of black humor that would become very popular few years later during Tarantino era.
Even if we don't pay attention to skills with which potentially disturbing material becomes eye pleasing and entertaining, we should admit that Scorsese displays his talents of truly original and creative filmmaker. First, we might notice unusual structure of the...
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