Goodfellas (1990) | Scorsese Retrospective

January 23rd, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Martin Scorsese | Writers: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese | Cast: Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro | US | Crime Drama

Gangster movies hold a fascination in the public imagination with the genre catching fire in the 1960s when charismatic antiheroes like Bonnie and Clyde and the Kray Twins were celebrated for their criminal antics – but generally met a sticky end.

Growing up in New York, Martin Scorsese was familiar with the various cultural divides (Jewish,Irish,Italian) from his personal experiences in Little Italy and poured all this energy into his thrillers from the Depression with Boxcar Bertha (1972), to the visceral brutality of Mean Streets (1973) and Taxi-Driver.

The sheer upbeat energy of GOODFELLAS often makes the blood-soaked gushes of violence all the more breathtaking – especially where Pesci is concerned, and this is all punctured with caustic wit as Scorsese cleverly captures the Jewish situational humour in scenes featuring Hill’s wife, brilliantly played by Lorraine Bracco (as Karen), with ehoes of the best of Woody Allen. Yet there’s also the visceral punch of the love affair between Karen and Henry who express their passion in a way that’s seldom seen on screen – this is desire that doesn’t need to feature scenes of steamy love-making to make it palpable and real. Their chemistry makes for a interesting contrast with the more latent but just as tangible desire and longing that burned between Tony Leung and Maggie Cheung’s characters in Wong Ka Wai’s In the Mood for Love.

Based Nicholas Pileggi’s book ‘Wiseguy’, and now celebrating its 50th annivesary, the film opens with Hill’s chillingly memorable words: “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster”, and takes us on a rollercoaster rake’s progress within a Mafia clan where Hill earns his stripes and twice serves time – if you could call it that – together with his brothers in jail. In actual fact these incarcerations were just a microcosm of his normal life: cooking, crooking and companionship continued on as normal – just in the confines of the jail. But it was the drugs that finally got to Hil although underneath it all, Pesci plays him as a emotionally rather a weak and unstable character who was just looking for an escape route. He finds this by entering a witness protection programme that saw him surviving iwth a new identity after giving evidence that ked to the conviction of his mafiosi colleagues.

All the velocity and verve of the filming panache carries the narrative forward like a steam-train of expert freeze-frames and long takes with Bernard Herrmann’s atmospheric score and a melee of modish tunes the shriek the 70s taking us back to those magnificent years of political incorrectness and gutsy romance.

GOODFELLAS is Scorsese at his very best with its iconic turns from De Niro (Jimmy Conway), Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito, ) and Ray Liotta whose vituperative viciousness unnerves the audiences from the very start. He’s a man with nothing to lose and his passion for Jewish princess Karen – Elaine Bracco at her most vibrant, is what love is all about. Their affair fizzes like a firework alongside the crime narrative making GOOFELLAS Scorsese at his very best. MT


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