I saw Goodfellas 4 days ago already, but I kept putting off writing about it. Why? Well...I'm afraid I'm going to blaspheme.

Oh, not blaspheme in the "fucking show yourself, you goddamn bloodsucker" way I was talking to the hiding mosquito in my room on my hunt after the movie, infected by the language. No, blaspheme as in: I didn't really like it all that much.

Oh, Scorses is definitely a master filmmaker, so I did find much to admire: there are some breathtaking tracking shots, the dialogue snaps like it should, basically every technical aspect is perfect. Somehow, though, I was unaffected.

One thing might be that it's long, and that I didn't find the story particularly engaging or suspenseful. To put it crudely, I didn't really care who lived or died. It might be that I found the switching between the perspective of the voice-over from Henry to Karen and back distracting and unnecessary. More importantly, I think it's from a lack of affinity with Scorsese's take on the mafia as a topos.

It's interesting that almost every director to take on the genre of mob movies has his own take on it. To Coppola, the family aspect, the traditional side, was most important. To Tarantino, gangsters are just the epitome of cool. In Mann's movies, being a gangster is just a job like another, with it's own rules and ethics, sure, but not all that different from being a cop, a journalist, a cab driver.

To Scorsese, it's a calling.

And see, that's where he loses me, because I can't for the life of me understand Henry. He describes it in detail: he likes the respect he gets, the perks, that he doesn't need to wait in line.

I mean really? To not have to wait in line you're ok with hurting and killing people? You're happy to exploit people?

Of course, the element of the film that is intriguing, I have to admit, is the unreliability of the narrator. Henry justifies a little too much, tries too hard to justify the mafia as a not-so-evil form of business. They protect these people after all, see? Also, in the voice-over he seems reluctant to use violence, quite a nice guy actually, but he seems just a little too eager to hit his wife for that to be true.

I'm almost scared to type the above, to justify myself by saying "it's not the movie, it's probably just me". After all, this is #92 on the most recent AFI list, #18 on the imdb top 250. But I'll be bold, and say it outright: I think Goodfellas is overrated.

If you'll excuse me, I'll go run and hide now.


Anonymous said...

you should go and hide :)...you had too high an expectations that were impossible to fulfill as well as, u may bash it just to be different...I buy that he is ok with the violence, simply because he grew up into it i buy completely the great feeling of belonging to something that is strong.....it`s a dog eat dog world...and he is simply playing his part, and enjoying what is in it for him....if u take out morals, its simply the ability to cope with the fear of looking over your shoulder....or as he puts it, "to have balls". besides, its a true story, and Henry is still alive and appears from time to time on the Howard stern show, telling about the old days, and filling some gaps in the story. look at this link...its has a picture of him today...look for GOODFELL-OFF THE WAGON:

Hedwig said...

Ah, but that something is true doesn't mean it makes good art, and that something really happened doesn't mean it'll be realistic in fiction. When defending a work of art, whether it's a book or a movie, "but that's the way it really happened!" is never an excuse, a work of art can be improved by knowing the true story behind it sometimes, but it should stand on its own.

As for the high expectations, wasn't I allowed to have them, when everyone calls it a masterpiece? I don't bash this "just to be different", but I won't call this a great film just to conform, either. I wasn't captivated by it, I was taken out of it by some choices (such as the switching of voice-overs I mentioned), and in fact I was even bored by it in some stretches when there wasn't any brilliant camera work to keep me interested, so I won't lie and say I loved it. It was a disappointment, and this piece was me trying to figure out WHY my reaction was so different from most people's.

cjKennedy said...

I hate to be an enabler here, but I'll let you in on a small secret that might make you feel a little better: I love Scorsese but Goodfellas is not my favorite of his movies. Give me Taxi Driver or Raging Bull any day of the week over Goodfellas. I totally respect your disapointment though I do find a lot to admire in the movie. It's not my favorite, but I still like it.

It's true too that expectations can be a killer. It's not your fault you have them, but it's hard for any movie to live up to the masterpiece title especially the first time you see it.

I'd probably have to watch the movie again and have it fresh in my mind before I could really talk about it intelligently (even then it's debatable), but that's never stopped me before so here goes.

Henry is kind of an anti-hero. He's a bad guy, there's no doubt about that, but in some ways he's being the best he can be within the world that he lives. He's honorable, loyal and dedicated, but he just happens to be in an illegal profession that frequently involves killing people. He also pays quite a price for that in terms of the punishment he's given and the abuse he puts on himself through drugs.

Because he's an increasingly unreliable narrator, I think it's all the more fitting and useful that we get to hear Karen's side of things. In some ways, she's like him in that she's trying to make the best of the world she's in, but in other ways she's like us. She's the civilian and as such she provides our entry into this strange world of the mob.

I hope that you liked enough about it that one day you'll revisit it. It would be interesting to hear whether you find another way to think about it that will cause you to like it more or if you still think it's overrated.

Lanchka said...

Blogger hates me and won't let me leave comments. I already wrote two of them taking "anonymous" to task and then couldn't post them. You and CJKennedy cornered him/her well enough, though.

Anyway, I'm going to use your review as an excuse when Erik tries to force me to sit down and do a gangster movie marathon.