Good Movie Review On Gangter Genre: Goodfellas
The Gangster Genre has always been a huge part of American Cinema. There is a certain quality to it that signifies something unique for many audiences to root for. But what is Genre? GoodyKootz and Jacobs (2014) states, “A genre is a type, or category, and genre films are usually easily recognizable as part of a certain genre. This is because they tend to use familiar story formulas, character types, settings, and iconography (visual imagery with symbolic implications), all of which lead viewers to have certain expectations about what the movie will be like before actually watching it” (Ch.4). There are always certain expectations with gangster films. While originally, it was essentially a film between good and evil. It later becomes a vehicle for a kind of anti-hero that the audience can root for. For instance, in The Godfather, Don Corleone is a man of the old ways and has no wish to get into the drug trade and considers immoral. In a similar fashion, the gangster film has become about the rise and fall of the main protagonist while inhibiting certain traits that are specific with this genre of film. In essence, it serves as an allegory and simultaneously a dichotomy of the American Dream.
The gangster genre has certain traits attached to it though over the years it has melded with other sub genres to make every film a unique setting. In most of these films, the protagonist will rise from small time crook to become a big powerful force. Violence is a byproduct of the gangster world and seen as a way of life. For instance, brutal death is the result of ‘snitching’ to the police. In the modern gangster film, immense wealth has been acquired but at great cost. The protagonist may have started off as an innocent, hard working and loyal by criminal standards, but other portions that made him whole have perverted that side of his life. It even hurts other people around him. The modern gangster film that exhibits these qualities is Goodfellas.
Goodfellas was released in 1990 and directed by Martin Scorsese. The film starts with its protagonist Henry Hill (Ray Liota) as it adopted by the mob as a young boy and gradually moves up in the ranks. He even narrates at the beginning of the film that he always wanted to be a gangster. The gangsters who take him under their wing are Paul "Paulie" Cicero (Paul Sorvino), James ‘Jimmy’ Conway (Robert DeNiro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). Paulie is the leader of the gang. James, Tommy and Henry all commit robberies. Their biggest is the Air France Robbery in 1967. During that time, Henry meets and marries a Jewish girl Karen (Lorraine Bracco). A few years later, Tommy known to have a violent temper murders Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) for making fun of his past as a ‘shoe-shine’ boy. The problem is that Billy belongs to the Gambino crime family which would certainly lead to their deaths. They cover up the murder, bury the body but have to retrieve it six months later as the site is about to be dug up for construction. Henry and Jimmy are caught for beating an indebted gambler leading to their arrest by the FBI and imprisoned for 10 years. Whilst in prison, Henry sells drugs to provide for his family which leads him to the drug trade. Paulie doesn’t approve of this but Henry continues to do so because of the large payouts getting Jimmy and Tommy involved. In 1978, they commit the Luftansa heist resulting in 6 million dollars for the crew. But after the rest of the gang doesn’t listen to Jimmy about buying expensive gifts, he has them all killed. Tommy is killed by the Gambino family as payback for murdering Billy. Two years later, in 1980, Henry’s drug habits and dealing catch up with him resulting in him signing up for the witness protection program and turning state evidence on Paulie and Jimmy. Henry is no longer a gangster and eventually ends up living a very dull life as a ‘nobody.’
This film is remarkable as it is not only a modern gangster film but it also exhibits its old traits. For instance, take the arc of Henry Hill. He is young, idealistic and naïve. He wants to be a gangster. He is not the honest hardworking man that his father was. He wants the fast cars, women and money. According to Ebert (1990), “Henry Hill looks out the window of his family's apartment and observes with awe and envy the swagger of the low-level wise guys in the social club across the street” (par. 4). At the end of the film, he has become a ‘snitch’ and turned state evidence against his former friends. Scorsese makes it a point to use the white picket fences as Henry walks outside his house to fetch the morning paper. Like the American dream, he finally got his house and white picket fences. The catch is that he will live in fear for his rest of his life with no cars, money or the good life.
Violence has always been part of the gangster genre. When used in the right manner, it shows the harshness of living such a life. Take the scene when Tommy kills Billy. He violently stomps him almost to death. He, Jimmy and Henry put him into the back of his car but before deposing of him, stop by at his mother’s house to bring a shovel. His mother wakes up and doesn’t let them leave cooking them dinner in the process. While Tommy and Jimmy are very secure at dinner, Henry is quiet and disturbed by Tommy’s calm demeanor in front of his own mother. He even brings along his mother’s butcher knife to violently stab Billy before they shoot and bury him. Henry is perhaps most shaken by these turn of events. This is not the part he glamorized as a child. This was raw, brutal and vile. It’s an important point to really show the differences in character between the three. While Henry is a thief, he is not a cold blooded murdered like the other two. The aftermath of this leads to Tommy’s death which is again an important motif in this genre. Like all gangsters, he got out of line and bit off more than he could chew.
Karen serves an important part of the story. She has been raised in a good home but falls under the spell of Henry. She is morally sound but that deteriorates being married to Henry. She takes pride in the fact that he dares the law by stealing. Like Henry, she is a thrill seeker. She fills that void by being married to Henry. According to Travers (1990), “As Henry's wife, Karen is shocked at first by the sudden bursts of violence that are part of her husband's profession. But guns, drugs and deals soon become part of her life” (par. 5). An even more shocking event as the years pass is that she partakes in snorting cocaine with her husband. At the beginning of the film, she is sweet and innocent. By the end, she is as morally corrupt as her husband. This is part of the Gangster genre. Not only does the protagonist fall, his loved ones fall with him.
In America, it is said if you work hard, you will get riches and have a wonderful life. Henry Hill chose a short cut and made a mockery of American principles. His path to his house with white picket fence is forever filled with death, destruction and disloyalty to all that fell in his path.
GoodyKoontz, B., & Jacobs, C. (2014). Movie Genres. In Film: From Watching to Seeing (2nd ed.). Bridgepoint Education.
Ebert, R. (1990, September 2). GoodFellas Movie Review & Film Summary (1990) | Roger Ebert. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/goodfellas-1990
Travers, P. (1990, September 19). GoodFellas. Retrieved April 13, 2015, from http://www.rollingstone.com/movies/reviews/goodfellas-19900919
Goodfellas [Motion picture on DVD]. (1990). USA: Warner Bros.
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