So, I finally got around to watching GoodFellas. It’s surprising, considering my somewhat longstanding obsession with mafia movies, mafia culture, mafia television, Italian food, sweatsuits, etc. Mind you, I watched it with slightly distracting French subtitles (not of my own choosing, but necessary for the other viewers), but I did see clearly why this was chosen to be one of the AFI Top 100 (a list I’ve been working on for quite some time). Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, and Robert DeNiro are in top form, but I guess the problem I have with this film is the fact that I really hate all three of their characters. I know that sounds weird, considering their line of work, but in all other mafia-inspired works (namely The Godfather(s), The Sopranos, and even Scarface), the characters develop in such a way as to make them oddly sympathetic. In the case of those two aforementioned movies, I have to admit here that I have a huge crush on Al Pacino, so in my eyes he can do no wrong. That could be the reason for my amiability. But I think Pacino injects more sympathy into an evil profession than is humanly possible. And James Gandolfini, as Tony Soprano, develops so extensively over the course of 6 seasons that it would be foolish not to think he’s at least kind of a cool guy.
But DeNiro, Liotta, and especially Pesci dig themselves into a gritty, unforgivable rut throughout the course of the film, which really just displays another type of acting brilliance, and I just really want to whack all of them by the time the credits are rolling. Pesci definitely has that undeniable knack for upping the annoyance factor the minute he steps on screen, and it’s made even more obvious by DeNiro’s “straight-man” demeanor – which also worked in Raging Bull. [SIDE NOTE: Who’s excited that RB moved way up on the 2007 AFI list? I am!!] And Ray Liotta, who I’m not really that familiar with, captured the essence of sleeze and slime, complete with slicked-back hair and a squinty belly laugh.
But am I being to idealistic about these hit-men? Should I really expect more from them? After all, they are normal people with normal lives and normal families. One interview on a Sopranos featurette mentioned that the show was probably the most realistic media portrayal of East Coast organized crime. So maybe there’s something missing from GoodFellas. Or maybe not.