“GoodFellas,” stayed with me for two days after I watched it. The atmosphere was heavy with feelings of remorse and sorrow, of foolish actions that have squandered a lifetime, and of unrequited devotion that has been betrayed. At the same time, though, there was a sky longing for unpleasant experiences that weren’t worth missing, yet were.
Even the most memorable films tend to disappear from consciousness not long after the audience has returned to the real world. Not with this m4ufree, which captures America’s best director at the height of his craft. While “The Godfather” and “Goodfellas” are not quite comparable, there has never been a better picture depicting organised crime.
Opening in Chicago on September 21st, “GoodFellas” is a first-person account of Mafia life as experienced by Irish-Italian teenager Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), whose lifelong goal has been to become a “smart man,” or Mafioso. Karen, the Jewish girl (Lorraine Bracco) he married, narrates as well, describing how she found her entire social life to be confined within the Mafia. Mob wives, she explains, never go anywhere or talk to anyone who isn’t a part of that world, and so the Mafia’s values eventually seem like normal values. She was even pleased with her spouse for not being a couch potato but rather going out and stealing for a livelihood.
Life in a Mafia Family was a best-seller because it was based on the true story of a man named Henry Hill who went into the witness protection programme and spent four years telling what he knew about the mafia to the writer Nicholas Pileggi. So much material and sentiment about the Mafia is packed into the script by Pileggi and Scorsese that it ultimately generates the same claustrophobic sensation as described by Hill’s wife; the sense that the mob world is the actual world.
Justice With the Film
Scorsese is the only filmmaker who could do justice to this material. He has extensive familiarity with the subject. His upbringing in New York’s Little Italy as an asthmatic youngster who couldn’t play sports and whose health prevented him from leading a regular childhood, a boy who was frequently forgotten yet never missed a thing, was the defining experience of his life.
Early in the gomovies, young Henry Hill looks out the window of his family’s apartment and watches the low-level wise guys in the social club across the street with awe and envy. He is impressed by their swagger and the fact that they get girls, drive hot cars, have money and never get tickets from the police, despite having loud parties that last all night.
The narrator informs us that this is the kind of lifestyle he idealised. The recollection may have originated with Hill or be found in Pileggi’s book, but it is also Scorsese’s, and in the 23 years I have known him, we have never had a discussion that did not include that defining picture of himself as a child, peering out the window at the local thugs.