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Goodfellas (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on January 5, 2013

One of my movie-related resolutions for this year is to revisit all the movies I own but haven’t watched in at least 5 years.  While there were about a dozen others “in line” before this one (if I were to stick to a strict schedule of watching in order of the last time I viewed them), Goodfellas was calling out to me from the shelf.  I needed a shot in the arm, a punch in the gut.

The world of Henry Hill and his fellow gangsters is constantly bristling with energy, threatening to burst out at any moment, splattering anyone in the vicinity with violence… and often doing so.  The rewards are great — as seen in the famous Copacabana scene and its much-celebrated tracking shot — but the price is fear.  Behind all the posturing and keeping up appearances and bravado is an undercurrent of fear.  Fear of not being as ruthless as the next guy, fear of losing face, fear of the police, fear of not having access to instant gratification, fear of boredom.  Fear of the guy standing next to you… he may be funny, but you gotta be careful telling him that.  The mob controls with fear because fear is what they know best.

There is a feeling that anything can happen, at any time.  And something always does.  And it’s usually not good.  Having seen it about 10 times, I can’t say there are any surprises left — the film is so memorable that it only takes one or two viewings before the scenes are burned into your memory.  But it still has the power to shock, to jolt you with a sudden cut, or turn of events, or brutal explosion of hostility and unglamorized violence.  Scorsese fully commits to the intensity, and plays it like a virtuoso.

What struck me most on this viewing is how much the dialogue (and monologue, in the narration) sings.  It sings like a noir, but it’s not stylized.  Every line feels perfect, and yet not at all unnatural.  Even a simple, throwaway line from Karen (a performance by Lorraine Bracco that I appreciate more and more) about her new couch: “The others, you couldn’t even sit in.”  Why is that sentence so great?  I dunno, but it is.  There’s a raw, honest humor to the lingo.  It’s entertaining.

The whole thing is entertaining, and harrowing, and gripping.  It grabs you by the neck and doesn’t let go.  Its excitement doesn’t come from a “Look at what a desirable lifestyle this is” attitude that glorifies crime.  You don’t want to be Henry Hill or any of his cohorts.  You don’t want to be anywhere near them (Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro and Paul Sorvino each terrifying in their own way).  It’s a world of fear, inhabited by cowards unwilling to do earn a living the hard way.  But it sure is fun to watch… from a safe distance.  Rating: Masterpiece (97)


2 Responses to “Goodfellas (rewatch)”

  1. […] 85. Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese) […]

  2. […] 37. Goodfellas (1990, Martin Scorsese) […]

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