92. Goodfellas (1990)

“Henry Hill and his friends work their way up through the mob hierarchy.”

After watching this film once, it is very easy to see why it has made AFI’s list of 100 Greatest Films. From the writing to the casting, it’s a wonderful film.

All films begin with an idea and a script. And this film’s script is good. It’s based on the true story of Henry Hill who was an associate to the Lucchese crime family from 1955 to 1980. The story itself provides for a good film. However, the actual writing is what I want to discuss, the dialogue. The dialogue just seems so unbelievably natural. The words flow from the actor’s mouths, and I believe every single word they are saying.

Now, a lot of that has to do with the casting. This film is packed with stars from Ray Liotta to Robert DiNero. And each actor involved does a very good job at making the viewer forget that they are, in fact, watching an actor portray somebody on screen. They all make it very believable, which is why, I should think, that the dialogue seems so natural.

This film has a way of capturing the viewer very early on. For me, the line that has always drawn me in is “As far back as I remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”. From that moment on, I’m hooked. From there, characters are quickly established, through monologue from Henry Hill, and that makes the film all the easier to follow.

This is a Scorsese film. This is a Scorsese film about gangsters. This is a Scorsese film about one of the five families that dominates organized crime in New York City. Of course there’s violence. And there’s lots of it. I mean, there’s not gratuitous violence or anything. I suppose there’s the amount of violence that you would expect would be in a film about the mafia.

When it comes to filmmaking, there’s a lot of great things (techniques?) used in this film. For instance, there is quite a bit of use of the “freeze frame”. In this film, that’s used, I would assume, to really drive home a point, seeing as freeze frames really only occur when Henry Hill has something important to say or needs to clarify something. There are not a lot of tracking shots used in this film, but there is one that is worth mentioning and that is the tracking shot that follows Henry and Karen through the back entrance of the restaurant. It emphasizes the twists and turns of the restaurant, but also helps to visually show how Karen is feeling, in a way.

There are only two point of view shots in the whole film, I believe, and they are used at the very best time. They are used when Karen is holding the gun to her husband Henry’s face. There is a POV shot from Karen’s point of view and then a POV shot from Henry’s point of view. And these shots create an awful lot of tension, not only for the characters themselves, but also for the viewer.

I should say that I always thought that it was a bit strange that the fourth wall is broken in the end of this film just because the film does not necessarily lend itself to that happening. Yes, the film is narrated by the main character, where he is pretty much talking to us, the viewer, but that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to “fourth wall breaking”. Although I find it odd that Henry Hill looks directly at the camera, fully acknowledging it in the end, it still works for the film, and works really well.

The soundtrack to this film is good. It flows with the times. The viewer can keep track of what decade is taking place in the film just by listening to the music that is playing. And that was done completely on purpose by Scorsese. And each song in the film, when it is played, comments on what is happening either in the scene or with a certain character.

I don’t think that I have ever liked Joe Pesci more than when he was in this film. He does such a marvelous job acting in this film, really becoming the character of Tommy DeVito. And, I must say, the whole “funny guy” scene is one of my favorites in the film. The scene not only shows us the kind of guy Tommy really is, but it also shows us the personalities and whatnot of the rest of the men who are there. It is an insight to these characters and to the way they think and to what they think is “funny”. It’s easy to see why Pesci won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in this film.

The character of Henry Hill is an interesting one. We, the audience, are immediately connected to him, as the story is being told from his point of view. He acts as the protagonist in this story, although he is not always good. We are given this main character and we like him. We really like him. And that is despite the fact that he does terrible things like kill and cheat. And the way we are able to like this character is because he can justify everything he does. He cheats on his wife and has a girlfriend because all the gangsters have girlfriends and he is a gangster. He kills people because they wronged one of his friends or because somebody told him to. He steals because it’ll make him money and he needs money for his family. He does these bad things because there is always somebody there to protect him. He justifies every last action that he does, and that is why we never really find ourselves hating this character. There’s only one moment in the film that I find myself really hating Henry Hill and it’s when he hits his wife. I mean, yes, she did just have a gun pointed at his head, but I mean, he really hits her. And then she begins apologizing, like she always does, which does not make me happy with her but this isn’t about Karen Hill and how angry she makes me it’s about her gangster husband. Sorry. It’s when Henry begins to really mistreat his wife that I find myself disliking him. Not long after this moment, however, in the film Henry starts to turn his act around. He becomes likeable again because he decides to “do the right thing” and inform on all of his “friends”, because it’s either him and his family or them. And, it turns out that he actually does care for his wife and kids, so yay for that I suppose. All in all, the character development of Henry Hill is fantastic.

To end this blog post, I have to mention a thought that occurred to me while watching this film. If one were to drink every time a character said “fuck”, you wouldn’t even make it to the half hour mark. Just a thought.

Grade: A

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