BP’s Top 100 Challenge #32: Goodfellas, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
To be really honest, there is one genre of film that I have never had any interest in and that is mafia movies. My limited exposure to this genre has not yielding a positive viewing experience so I have actively avoided movies like The Godfather films and Goodfellas. Additionally, Martin Scorsese has been a hit or miss director for me over the years. But I was very pleasantly surprised by Goodfellas and to my great surprise really enjoyed the film. I’ll find out in a few weeks if I will also enjoy The Godfather films.
I think one of the major reasons that mob movies have been such a turnoff to me in the past is the rampant machismo and male posturing. I don’t have much patience for that in real life or in films, so that has been a big deterrent over the years. There certainly was a lot of very macho behavior and a lot of posturing in the film, which was irritating but fit within the context of the story so I was more ok with it in Goodfellas. It wasn’t just machismo for the sake of it, it added to the characters and overall world-building.
I think the moment I knew I was hooked was when we start to hear Karen’s voice over. I knew there was going to be depth and multiple perspectives moving forward. She also wasn’t a push-over, she was a tough lady, and I liked that about her. She is often way over the top and a little out of control but that also fits her character. It was refreshing to have scenes like the one when she has a party with the wives and she talks about the fact that they look ragged, wear too much makeup, and beat their kids. This is clearly a new world for her and he is not entirely comfortable with it yet. Karen gets swept up into the mafia life and talks about how it was comforting and even a point of pride for her. But we see the tole it takes on her when she learns about Henry’s girlfriend or when he goes away to prison leaving her raise two girls alone.
I like that the film lays out the business of running the “family” and that we get to see Henry’s ascension from the beginning as well as the appeal that kind of life would have for a poor kid. While Goodfellas certainly shows the highs it doesn’t skirt around the dark side as well. I am not Italian and didn’t grow up in a community anything like this so when you see how close everyone is and how they look out for their own you can understand why it is so seductive. It would be easy to get wrapped up in that. And without a strong moral compass it would be easy to get lost in it.
The politics of running the family are one of the more interesting parts of the film. The way Paulie avoids the phone and only talks to one person at a time. Or the way they arranged hits based on who was “made” or not, was fascinating and terrifying at the same time. As was their techniques of getting money and goods. The way Henry describes hitting the airport whenever they needed cash was shocking.
I can’t talk about Goodfellas without talking about the fantastic soundtrack. I love a good soundtrack and Goodfellas knocks it out of the park taking you through some of the greatest hits of the 60’s and 70’s. There are classic Italian songs and mob hits from Tony Bennet but other great songs like “Leader of the Pack” by The Shangri-La’s and “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones. The soundtrack added a lot of atmosphere to the film, helped keep you connected to the timeline, and was just a lot of fun to listen to.
I was genuinely surprised by how much I like Goodfellas and the two and half hour runtime flew by. I am grateful to the Battleship Pretension Top 100 list challenge for challenging some of my unfounded movie opinions. I am going to make an effort to be more open to the mafia film genre in the future.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Goodfellas ranking: Battleship