Discussion on Goodfellas via messages, staring Luke and oldkid:
Wasn't sure if I should post this on the actual thread since it was a while back, but I've been reading the survey results of various posters that I've enjoyed posts from since joining a few days ago (I really liked your contributions to the Meek's Cutoff discussion)....and when I read your survey, I saw you emphatically HATED Goodfellas, which I found fascinating. Have you written about that anywhere? It's not in my personal top 10 or anything, but I think it's a great film and I don't think I've talked to anyone who hates it. I'd be interested to hear your take on it.
I don't write much about films I hate and so I have never written a formal review of Goodfellas. verbals and I have, however, had discussions on the subject, I just don't remember where.
First of all, I want to say that the film is excellent in all technical aspects-- script, cinematography, acting, ect, is all top-notch. My problem has more to do with how I view people.
I don't believe that anyone is all bad nor have I met anyone like that. I have met people who have betrayed their friends, I have met criminals and drug dealers and people who have threatened my life and others. But they all did it due to a mental weakness on their part or because they have a poor idea of what is good. Goodfellas has no likable characters, no one who even has a portion of their personality that is pleasant. Thus, watching this film, there is no entertainment value, just a bunch of fictional bad people doing bad things with no spark of hope or good qualities. It just made me miserable, and I don't think people like this exist.
The Godfather films make a lot more sense to me. There are bad people, but they do bad for good reasons, or reasons they like to think are good. The motivations are mixed, and the morality is mixed, just like real life. Goodfellas isn't realistic and it is two hours of misery.
That's my take.
That's an interesting and thoroughly reasonable take. Obviously I'm not expecting you to change your mind, but I guess I would argue that 'mental weakness and a poor idea of what is good' definitely describes many of the characters, and I guess I would disagree they have no redeeming qualities....but I see what you're saying, especially in regards to, for example, DeNiro's character.
I also think it works in a broader way that I find very engaging. It examines why people join organizations like this, the dangers of group-think and pack mentality, as well as pointing out that the 'American Dream', self-starter, bootstraps narrative we're all fed in North America is inevitably adopted by the criminal element, and indeed is one of the few places where that dream can actually seem achievable (which something like The Wire is all about).
Anyway, thanks for taking the time to write back. Appreciate your insight.
And The Wire is one of my favorite TV shows, but that is a prime example of everyone having mixed motivations.
I think I would have liked the film better if it had explored the idea of why the organization was attractive. It's there, at the beginning, and then dropped as we see more and more how immoral the individuals of the organization are, until we find out that everyone betrayed everyone else at the end.
I work with people who are criminals every day. And no matter how horrible some of these folks are, there are standards that they will absolutely stand by, one of them being not to rat anyone out. No one will do that, even if it benefits the community or themselves. This organization gives lip service to that standard, and then the give it up in a way I've never seen the underground do. And they ALL do it. They can't even stand by their own weak principles, there is no loyalty, even by those who were raised in that loyalty. It just makes no sense.
I'm interested that you think seeing what was attractive about the organization was dropped early and that everyone betrays everyone.
My memory of the film is that you see both the financial/power benefits, and that even when people go to prison, they remain influential, and stick together as a family unit. I also am pretty sure it's only Henry Hill who betrays everyone. That's part of the interesting arc of his character in my opinion. He's presented to us as our de facto hero, as he is seemingly less violent and cruel than either DeNiro or Pesci...but in the end, he is portrayed as ratting out everyone who was once loyal to him, eliminating one of the only claims to some kind of morality he might have had. Am I wrong? Do they all rat each other out? What you're talking about with the feeling of loyalty among the criminals you've worked with is the exact thing I always felt Henry Hill betrays, which is not painted as a heroic act, but a cowardly one.
From the code of loyalty they discussed early in the film, they all, not just Henry, betrayed it, some of them simultaneously. They were ready to give up on the community, it was just too hard, too dangerous. They were all cowards as well as criminals, in my book.