In lieu of all great Scorsese films, Goodfellas opens a striking chord that sends shivers down the audience’s spine. The film’s three paramount characters cruise along a desolate street in the emptiness of night. After hearing a pattern of tapping emerging from the vehicle’s trunk, they step out and pull out the trunk. Lying in the back, rests the body of a man on the verge of death. Blood stains his suit, and his face is barely that of a human. “He’s still alive, motherfucker, piece of shit!” calls one of the men, as he clutches a knife in one hand. He then bends over, and with one hand gruesomely plunges the knife into the man’s chest. Blood spills out from the wound, in a terrifying depiction of a murder. Everything freezes. A voice comes in from behind the camera, “As far back as I could remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
Goodfellas oozes to the brink with style and subtle humor such as that. It’s Scorsese vibrant and energetic direction that brings not only this, but all of his films to deserve their classic status.
Scorsese crafts his style with dedicated regard to the soundtrack. A small detail to be noted is how perfectly the music in the background evolves with the setting in time. When the earlier scenes transpire in the 50s, such tunes as “Rags and Riches” by Tony Bennett shine through. But towards the end, during the 1970s, hard rock embodies the score. From such music as Cream to Derek and the Dominos (Scorsese must have a fascination with Eric Clapton), Goodfellas personifies the next period in time. But when casual love songs play over gruesome and violent scenes, Scorsese sense of humor in contrasting media comes into play once more.
Goodfellas is a very frank depiction of an era and a generation. It’s almost amusing how preoccupied the characters’ parents are. It seems the full extent of their worries surround their children’s marriage, and various relationships that are centred around people of the same ethnicity. When Henry was a teenager, contributing to the gang with various simplistic jobs, his mother had no conflict with who her son was spending time with. All of her concerns were alleviated by the knowledge that Henry was socializing with a group of Irish men; Ireland being her home-country. When Henry meets Karen (his future wife)’s mother, she is satisfied with Henry due to the knowledge that he is half Jewish. It’s very satirical in that she has no worries due to her confidence in Henry’s background, despite the fact that he is a gangster. Martin Scorsese is commenting on how the parents of that generation may have had the greatest of intentions, but failed in proper parental behaviour.
But Scorsese wasn’t manufacturing a Hollywood blockbuster with the sole intent of bringing thrills to audiences; he was crafting a film with a poignant thesis behind it. In explaining Goodfellas, the words “seconds of glory are overshadowed by years of dismay” are how I would best define it. This concept is found within the walls of Goodfellas as we the audience are manipulated into the protagonist, Henry Hill’s perspective. Towards the beginning of the film, when Henry is merely an adolescent, he sees life as a gangster as being the highest achievement. His belief carries on this way, until a transition occurs halfway through. The moment that in which this precise change occurs, is while the camera is focused on the ornaments surrounding a Christmas tree. This is the final time where life in the Mafia is depicted as illustrious and prestigious. From then on, Scorsese presents Henry’s life as being filled with turmoil. In the end of his life, what will he remember? The days of his naive youth where he lived his dream, or the lengthy days of punishment and suffering? Good times breeze by before one can catch them in their hand, where suffering lingers and never seems to cease. In the end, this is why Goodfellas will remain one of the most discussed films in the history of cinema.