This week’s (May 9-15/14) movie of the week is… Goodfellas!
Every Friday night when I was my son’s age I watched The Dukes of Hazzard. That meant every night I would hear Waylon Jennings wail, “Just-a good ol’ boys.” Now Bo and Luke have virtually nothing in common with Henry and Tommy. I don’t seem to remember the Dukes opening up their trunk, finding a badly beaten man, Bo declaring, “He’s still alive!” and stabbing him several times in the chest to make sure he’s dead this time. Neither do I remember a yee-haw coming out of Jimmy or Frankie. But there is one thing they have in common: a peculiar sense of goodness.
The characters in this movie have an admirable code of conduct mixed with an unorthodox view of justice. They are completely and profoundly committed to each other, do random kind acts ‘out of respect’ and work together through good times and bad. You could say the same about Bo and Luke, though those Dukes are always getting themselves into trouble. And the law just doesn’t understand them. But we do. We love them. For the ‘Goodfellas,’ it’s a little more complicated than that. We might feel the same way about them as we do Bo and Luke, but the violence and gangster lifestyle brilliantly portrayed by Liotta, DeNiro and Pesci send shock waves through our own sense of social justice and morality. They may have a code of conduct, respect and loyalty, but they also have a deplorable numbness to violence and murder. But I think this is what makes this movie so great. We not only witness a tremendous story, we also get to ride the roller coaster of emotions, thoughts, and questions of what we would do in those situations. Martin Scorcese is a master storyteller in this sense. He does this perfectly in so many of his films.
And so go our lives. They are roller coasters to be sure and we are forced to contemplate whether our own sense of morality is healthy or if any contamination is there, like in the lives of Henry and company. This distorted view on life and goodness is captured well in Jack Nicholson’s character, Frank Costello as he says in The Departed, “When I was your age they would say we can become cops, or criminals. Today, what I’m saying to you is this: when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?” And the fact that these characters and events are based on real-life characters and events makes this even more of a powerful experience.
Congratulations Goodfellas. This is your week.
And the Oscar goes to…
Best Actress: Sharon Stone in Casino. Just the right amount of emotion and characterization. There is no doubt about it that this is her finest work of her career.
Best Actor: Joe Pesci in Goofellas. You’re right Jamie. The “do I amuse you?” scene is the best.
Best Quote: “For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster. To me that was better than being president of the United States. To be a gangster was to own the world.” – Ray Liotta as Henry Hill in Goodfellas.
Though the theme this week wasn’t Scorcese, you may have noticed that he directed all three of the nominated movies this week. Movies based on organized crime outnumber just about every other genre in IMDb’s top 250, including war movies. So it’s remarkable that three of the very best of them that are not in the Godfather series are all made by this one director.
Find that interesting? How about funny? How is it funny exactly…?