Saturday, December 27, 2008

Movies: Goodfellas

I know I'm a little late to the party, but wow, what a movie. Dare I say I liked it better than the Godfathers? I think I did. I think everything about it is perfect, until the end (rather like The Departed in that sense, when two and a half hours of brilliant movie-making fall apart with a ten second ham-fisted shot of a rat on a banister), when Ray Liotta breaks the fourth wall in the court room—what works in Ferris Bueller is not what works in Goodfellas. Not that Henry Hill and Ferris Bueller don't have tons in common—Hill's surroundings are simply more sinister. We don't want him palling around with us.

Though he's only half Italian, the teenaged Henry Hill idolizes the Sicilian gangsters across the street. Much to his parent's chagrin (Ferris, anyone?) the sweet-smiling, fast-talking kid gets himself employed parking cars and hawking stolen cigarettes, until he gets his first suit, gets "pinched" (but let off), and becomes a bonified gangster. From there, it's straight to the top: money, women, cigars, booze, and poker games. So long, mom and dad, hello smoldering Jewess and the Copacabana. When he does get sent to prison, it's with a few of his best buddies, and they use their connections to smuggle in salamis and bottles of wine, making stunning pasta dinners every night, mincing garlic cloves with razorblades.

And then it's the 70s, and Henry's back on the streets, but he has a little bit of a drug problem, along with a mistress, the most gauche home that you imagine, and a Pater Familias who tells him that he'd better lay off the drugs and fast. But Henry needs the money and he has a couple of buddies happy to help (the loose cannon Tommy (Joe Pesci) and the smooth, trustworthy snake Jimmy (Robert De Niro)). Everyone's rich, and everything's good (except that Pater Familias Paulie (Paul Sorvino) has disowned Henry for staying in the drug game). And then things get dicey again; Jimmy thinks he's going to get "made" and instead he gets "whacked" (saw that one coming). Jimmy makes to hurt Henry's wife, but she knows better and gets away. And, in one of the best drug-addled chase scenes of all time (are there that many?) a very hopped-up Henry Hill runs errands around the neighborhood, trying to make a pasta dinner while preparing a big shipment, followed by a police helicopter, stealing glances in all his mirrors and through the windscreen from behind those black plastic Ray-Bans. (Ferris?)

Of course the gig is up and when Henry's finally arrested, he has no real choice but to rat out the whole gang, going into the witness protection program with his wife, moving to the middle of nowhere where the pasta is "egg noodles with ketchup" (bascially the most depressing thing ever, even for a non-Italian).

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