Goodfellas is an American crime film that is based on the adaptation of non-fiction Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. The film sheds light on the rise and fall of crime family over a time frame from 1955 to 1980. It is considered among the American cinema masterpieces.
The paper makes an analysis of Goodfellas and what it is trying to put across to the audience. It discusses the major conflicts in the film and if there are flashbacks and foreshadowing. The essay looks at the film's use of symbols and the climax in the film. Examples from the film will be used to support evidences.
Summary of the film
Henry Hill idolizes the Lucchese crime family gangsters, even as he lives in a blue-collar Italian-American neighborhood in New York. He quits school as he looks forward to being a part of something significant. The local mob capo, Paul and his associates take him under their wings. Tommy DeVito, an aggressive armed robber, and James Conway, who hijacks trucks are his associates. Henry meets Karen, who is concerned about his criminal activities, but later gives in because of his glamorous lifestyle. He also has a mistress, Janice Rossi, who is confronted by Karen later in the film. Tommy beats a mobster to death and covers up the murder with the help of Jimmy and Henry. They bury the body but are forced to exhume the decomposing corpse six months later, when they learn that the burial site is going to be developed.
Henry and Jimmy are sent to collect from a gambler in Florida but get detained and get ten-year prison sentences. Even while in prison, Henry supports his family by selling drugs. Henry is a nervous wreck by 1980 due to insomnia and cocaine use. He get arrested by narcotics agents as he tries to organize a drug deal. The family is virtually penniless on his release. Henry realizes that Jimmy wants to have him killed and decides to join the Witness Protection Program. He now lives a new life in the real world as he gets forced out of his gangster life. He gets separated from Karen after 25 years of marriage.
GoodFellas delivered and became an instant classic when it was released in 1990. Starring Robert De Niro and Joe and directed by Martin Scorsese, the fans were already salivating with expectations from the crime film. It is one of the most powerful pictures of the decade and still echoes in countless crime sagas ever since (GoodFellas (1990)). The goal of the film was to deglamorize Mafia life and the expose the grim realities of mob life. It is hard not to miss the gradual acceleration of the cutting pace in the movie and how a leisurely criminal lifestyle turns paranoid. The narrative technique used throughout the film gives a direct explanation for different events.
Many people were not able to like the movie as it upset them and made them feel uncomfortable. The movie was longer and the rise to power and eventual downfall with complications in between. The movie starts with Henry's entrance and then leads on to flashbacks. The movie ends with a message that most of us hope to lead a peaceful, normal life. Henry has lived a life of sin, and guilty pleasure and moving on in the film is like joining him on his long wild ride. Murder is important in Goodfellas. One can note the weirdness in the lives of these men and how they want to control their lives as well as others. With a mosaic of short reels and music of the 1970’s this is a brilliant film (Pitman).
The main protagonist in the film is Henry, the "hero", who is aggressively bad right form the first frame. He has no qualms taking on the hideous violence as he idolizes the mobsters and is desperate to please him. He keeps wanting and desiring from life until his life is a compete ruin. He begins as amoral, turns evil and then good again, although, just to save his skin and because he has no choice. This is a character who sees a sharp rise and a fall, but there is no arc. He had this cold-blooded ability to seize opportunity even at the cost of others. This is not a character that one we like, but he is fascinating to watch.
The flash-forward scene is about Tommy and Jimmy have just killed a man and are about to bury him. The shift in the time of the scene is like a moving from good times to a world of gloom. This was the point when Henry's dream turned into a nightmare, and his life is of hauntings and reprisals after this point. The dynamics among the characters lead to the development of the plot and the tensions in Henry’s life makes the audience anxious as to where his life will lead him.
Henry shows his vulnerable side when he returns home to find that Karen has flushed his cocaine stash and broke down. He hugs Karen and shows his vulnerability. Still, the scene is cold and distant as he is crying over his loss and the riches he deserves. Here, during the scene, one is not allowed to empathize (Russin).
The cinematic techniques offer a good view of Henry’s wedding ring that is used as a symbol to remind the audience of his unfaithfulness to his wife. He shows little concern for his wife, Karen and to keep Sandy happy, he has tell her that he loves her. These developments in Henry’s character point to the fact he will have to follow some kinds of resolution in his life (Goodfellas Textual Analysis).
Goodfellas is a visually brutal film, and one can sense the underlying pressure of the impending violence throughout the film. Still, this is a visually pleasing film, with all those bright colors and smooth camera work. There is none of the gritty or vaguely inspired imagery in the esthetic of Goodfellas. The climax of the film is when Henry escapes to the safe anonymity of the witness protection program. Even though he is surrounded by suburban comfort and leads a normal life, he cannot prevent missing the privileges and excitement of his other life.
There are many different conflicts throughout the movie. It could be the means to make money, killing people and buying them, problems with the law and problems in relations and marriage. The conflicts in the movie revolve around when Henry is selling the cocaine or when he is cheating on Karen, and trying not to get caught. The biggest conflict is when Henry is going to get pinched for the supply of cocaine. This is a big conflict as it is at this point that Henry has to decide as to, what is more, important to him in his life. He has to decide between his family and the friends that he is known all of his life. He chooses to side with his wife and children, and it is this conflict that leads to the making of his story.
A conflict arises between Henry’s crew and the law, and the level of danger in drug dealing is first acknowledged by Paulie. The series of conflicts in Henry’s life further creating challenges for him that he has to ultimately confront. He has conflicts with his parents, he has conflicts with his wife Karen over money, sex, and drugs and develops complications when he is sent to prison. His involvement in dealing drugs leads to one of his biggest conflicts. Each of these conflicts build his character and the flaws in him.
The film's theme centers on the life of a gangster and their dark world that is filled with betrayal and conflicts. It is structured as a tragedy, showing the rise of Hill in the half of the film and his inevitable downfall in the second half. As the audience, one is forced to think if all that money and the life of the gangsters, fueled by greed and lust for more money is worth it. One element distinguishes it from most of the other mafia films is Scorsese' direction where one cannot find even a minor fault in the direction. His style of direction is fierce. When Henry betrays the main law of his life and which has been loyalty and is forced to live a different life, this is a major variation in the film plot (Kauffmann).
Goodfellas take us through the life story of Henry Hill, a New Yorker and depicts the culture of the New York gangs in the 1950’s. It deals with life-changing situations and multiple conflicts that arise in the harsh life of mobsters. The film lures us and has no easy answers, but simply just uneasy alternatives. The dramatic moments in the films are pointed by popular music and the transition from the early days of Henry when he is shown selling stolen cigarettes at a factory gate to frenetic days when he sells cocaine. The film is not a straightforward about the morality but is more about guilt. His banishment is his punishment as he lives now as anybody with no name as he is taken into the witness protection program (Ebert).
The audience has seen plenty of cruelties and deceptions in the life of Henry and the deceit between characters. The end of the film strengthens the importance of honesty and a simple life. The American gangster film can be enjoyed by many audiences. The effective cinematic techniques, immersive conflicts and a captivating narration moves one deeper into the gangster life and the conflicts he faces and the challenges that must be overcome. While The Godfather, another American cinema masterpiece gave a more romanticized image of the Mafia, Goodfellas offers the ugly realities of a life of crime.
Ebert, Roger. "Goodfellas." Rogerebert.com. Roger Ebert, 1990. Web. <http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/goodfellas-1990>.
"GoodFellas (1990)." Theasc.com. American Cinematographer. Web. <https://www.theasc.com/magazine/nov04/dvd/page1.html>.
"Goodfellas Textual Analysis." Williamtylerhorne.com. Tyler Horne, 2013. Web. <http://www.williamtylerhorne.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Goodfellas-textual- analysis.pdf>.
Kauffmann, Stanley. "GoodFellas." The New Republic 203.17 (1990): 28. Link
Pitman, Randy. "Goodfellas." Library Journal 116.12 (1991): 150.
Russin, Robin. "Hell Is Other People: A Look Back at Goodfellas." Creation A Screenplay Concept That Sells (2015). Print.