Goodfellas: The Insatiable Thirst to Become the Despicable

By: Alexander Mervar

Hello readers! As you can tell, I’ve been away for awhile. School and being sick has really weighed down on me. But, the absence of reading for enjoyment and writing for the blog has led to a downgrade in my mental health, which was not appreciated. So, I have returned now due to the initiation of my spring break.

This post is different than what I’ve done in the past. It’s a combination of the video essay format that I’ve learned to love on YouTube and inspiration that I’ve taken from great blogs like MacStories, Kottke, and Wait But Why. I would like to increase the number of posts on this blog while maintaining (or even improving) the quality of posts. I’m thinking along the lines of a couple of “link sharing” posts where I share things from different facets of the internet as well as posting longer form “essays” like the one below. I hope you enjoy. It’s good to be back.


WARNING: Spoilers for the film Goodfellas

Goodfellas, which is directed by Martin Scorsese, was an impactful movie during the early 90s when it was released. Following great films like The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), Scarface (1983), and The Untouchables (1987), Goodfellas had a lot to prove when submitting itself as another entry into the great American collection of mob movies. But the tremendous cast, directing, editing, and truly profound and raw story of Henry Hill, which the film is based upon, joins together to create a filmmaking masterpiece.

Within the first 3 minutes of the film’s incredibly well paced 2 hours and 28 minutes runtime, I knew it was going to be a spectacle and marvel. The beginning of the film has no music. Instead, the sounds of a highway are heard as the names of the opening credits literally race by on screen and line up with the sounds of oncoming and passing cars within the audio. This attention to detail and stylistic choice by the editors mirrors the constant progression through Henry’s (the protagonist of the film) life. (Obviously, we can’t stop the progression of time. This is just like the fact that you can’t stop an oncoming car with just your will power.)

The film takes advantage of the stylistic choice of an in medias res beginning, which throws the audience into the middle of the action after the killing (“whacking”) of Billy Batts. Showing something so despicable in front of the audience just a few minutes into the film shows the audience just what kind of film this will be, an action-filled drama that progresses through the biography of Henry Hill. In my opinion, this film takes everything good about The Godfather and shifts the focus to mobsters that haven’t been “made”.

A point to highlight in the film is the introduction of Henry in his early years. Every short anecdote ends with a freeze frame, which highlights the scene and signifies that these moments are what Henry values most and shapes him into the man that he will become in his later years. This backdrop draws the audience to recognize their insatiable lust for the lifestyle of the mob. Everyone who watches this film wants to have a piece of the wealth of Jimmy, the masculinity of Tommy, the “living the dream” nature of Henry, and the control of Paulie. This creates a movie that isn’t just about killing; it’s a film about family, friendship, and protection. Showing the movie through the mobsters’ eyes makes the audience realize that the mob isn’t stereotypical and instead, it has many complexities the viewer must recognize to understand the depth that this movie provides.

This film is incredibly quotable. One of my favorites comes from Jimmy after Henry’s first court hearing,

Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.

Although Henry lives by this creed, by the end of the film the independence he gains pushes him to juxtapose Jimmy’s philosophy and do the exact opposite. This adds another area of analysis for the viewer as the thematic idea of independence is brought up.

Robert De Niro as Jimmy is terrific. It’s a performance you have to see to believe.

Scorsese utilizes his masterful abilities as a filmmaker to provide long and unbroken shots that I absolutely adore.

Finally, I want to touch on the subject of Karen. Karen provides a necessary outside and feminine voice that the audience can immediately connect with. Her normal lifestyle and being seduced by the lifestyle of Henry acts as a portrayal and mirror of the audience and their own reaction to Henry’s lifestyle. Without Karen, who I’d argue is the most important character in the film, the film Goodfellas would be just that, a good film with a bunch of fellas.