In Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas, a pre-Quentin Tarantino movie that is turning out to be the post-Tarantino touchstone for how to make a drama about the lethal seductions of bad behavior (Boogie Nights, The Sopranos, and American Hustle are all honorary sons of GoodFellas), Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), the shark/schlub wise-guy antihero, sucks the audience right into his dream of doing whatever the hell he pleases the moment he announces, in that opening voiceover, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” To watch GoodFellas is to think: And who wouldn’t? A quintessential here’s why you want to be a gangster moment is the famous entering-the-restaurant tracking shot, in which Henry and his date, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), get to bypass the crowd by snaking in through the kitchen, only to land at the best table in the house. That’s the Horatio Alger myth compressed into 30 ecstatic Scorsesesque seconds: Being a gangster isn’t just acting like a hoodlum — it’s rising up and flowing past the horde, fulfilling a fantasy of coming out on top. It is, on some level, what all of us crave. GoodFellas has a lot of moments like that, but Scorsese is too great a filmmaker to make the gangster life look easier than it is. To live by violence gets you treated like a king, but it’s also a brutal existence that gradually eats away at you. In the classic “You think I’m funny?” scene, Joe Pesci’s is-he-kidding? tweaking of Henry isn’t just a goof, it’s a sinister preview of what every gangster ultimately faces: the Mob’s violence turning on them. As GoodFellas goes on, the freedom that Henry Hill saw in the gangster life begins to look like a trap, and by the end, when he’s coked to the gills, trying to escape his cronies and the law, no one in his right mind would want to trade places with him. READ FULL STORY
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