I've got a lot of time the next few days before I go home for Christmas (thanks weather) so I rented some movies I've always heard about but never got around to. Turned out, they were all "manly" mobster movies. First up, Goodfellas.
Much like The Godfather, it tracks the rise and involvement of a young man into the mob. But unlike The Godfather, the young man wants to get into the mob. It begins with Henry Hill, the half Irish half Italian neighborhood kid who sees and admires the gangster lifestyle. Christopher Serrone plays young Henry and captures the characteristics and enthusiasm older Henry played by Ray Liotta (and attractiveness).
From the very beginning, we realize we're going to get the greatest hits version of Henry's story, complete with narration. The first hour of the film until we catch up to the initial scene chronologically, is a pure pleasure to watch. We speed through facts and events and it feels like someone telling a story. Group scenes pan by each person describing their name and their role. Dialogue and music blend between scenes blatently skipping over non-essential information. His courtship with Karen is told by narration on both sides kind of reminiscent of When Harry Met Sally cut-ins but broken up by some scenes. Then it starts to get real with unprovoked murders, affairs, cocaine, and more murders. And then it gets irritating because everyone is making terrible choices and it's just painful to watch.
One of the most interesting things about the film is it's vague dwelling in the past. Although styles change all around, the music and Liotta's wardrobe stay behind. The music, although most is contemporary with the the time period, always sound a little antiquated. For example, an early 80s scene features a song by George Harrison who--like the rest of the Beatles--never could escape sounding at least vaguely like his old band. And then Ray Liotta's clothing usually looks like it's based on 50s style. His button-up shirts have clean, flat hems that don't require to be tucking or clean cut suits in dark teals and blues. It's as if he's holding onto the fairytale dream of the mob from when he was a kid. However, an 80s punk version of the Sinatra classic "My Way" leads us out of the film. I guess things caught up with Henry Hill.
This film is a loving tribute to the mob. Through the enthusiastic perspective of Henry, we never see the mob judged, except that it sure is a fun ride. The horrible things he tells matter-of-factly, the benefits he praises. In the end, Goodfellas is not my favorite film. I prefer character driven stories, and while this film certainly is about the character Henry Hill, it's always a little detached. We never know how he feels about his relationship with his wife or that innocent guys are being killed. We get glimpses by how he reacts in scenes, but for the most part he seems emotionally ambivilant about it until the fun times roll around. We know this: Henry Hill sure loves the mob.
Lessons learned: Joe Pesci is obnoxious and don't bust a mobster's balls.