Director: Martin Scorsese
Goodfellas tells a story that is ultimately a tragedy of a kid born into a barbaric subculture of crime, in which the most promising career he can choose is to become a criminal himself, which completely consumes his being, compromises his character, and through a combination of violence, death, betrayal, and drugs he slowly loses his soul and becomes the one thing that is the biggest anathema to anyone from his way of life—a rat, and then proceeds to fade into nothingness in a life that is as boring as his old one was desperate. And it’s a sell set to a swinging, groovy soundtrack! It’s become cliché at this point, but Martin Scorsese really tapped into something with the dynamic idea to have contrasting upbeat period music intercut with scenes of brutal mob violence. Scorsese has often been derided as overly violent, but to my eyes he is just violent enough. His movies are set in times and places where violence is an everyday reality, but the violence there isn’t a stylized or glorified splatter spectacle like you see in Rambo for instance, this understated, but still bloody, brutal and realistic violence with an emphasis on swift, quick movement that lets you feel everything with an extra degree of realness. Scorsese does pistol whippings and gunshot wounds better than anyone for my money. I don’t mean that as a compliment in and of itself, but, if you are going to take it upon yourself to depict this world, as he has, I think it is essential to do it with such attention to detail.
The glorification does not come from the violence, but from the personalities in the movie. The gangsters in this movie played by Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and Robert De Niro have a larger than life personalities and faces that were made to be in gangster movies. Pesci especially, who grew up in the Bronx and actually lead the life he is depicting onscreen, has the fluid movement and viscous charisma of James Cagney, but with an even meaner demeanor if that’s possible. De Niro plays an astute businessman, a calculating character that measures every risk he takes. Liotta is the kid with the stars in his eyes. He idolizes the De Niro character, and only wants to achieve the same success, but he lacks the self control as he winds up involved in a world of druggies and burnouts. Pesci’s character is also doomed by his paranoia and obsessive violence, which takes him over the accepted line of everyday murder into whacking a “made guy” which gets his character a death sentence of his own. Technically this film is a masterpiece. There’s a tracking shot that shows the characters going through a kitchen all the way to a busy nightclub that is done in one continuous take. Scorsese is definitely showing off with stuff like this, but if anyone has earned the right to, he has.