In the movie Goodfellas, brilliant directing, acting, and screenwriting form a perfect magic triangle of transcendent storytelling. Based on the non-fiction book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the film chronicles the criminal career of New York City mafia associate Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). Why is Goodfellas great, while more recent stabs at the Mafia genre fail to even achieve mediocrity?
To begin with, the hyper corporatization and commoditization of the film industry that began in the 1980’s reached soul sucking lethality by the time the corrupt but still salvageable American Republic crossed the 9/11 coup d’état Rubicon into postmodern corporatist dictatorship. The board of directors of current entertainment corporations also sit on the boards of bank cartels, defense contractors, Big Pharma, privatized CIA tech and surveillance companies, and other malevolent financialized entities. Granted, the movie business was always profit driven, but at least old studio moguls like Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner took pride in their product. The only concerns corporate Hollywood has are profit, and the use of entertainment as a way to distract and dumb down a post 9/11 population of serfs.
Another reason Goodfellas blows away its Cosa Nostra competition is director and co-screenwriter Martin Scorsese. Scorsese who came of age in 1950’s and 60’s New York City, lived in Italian American neighborhoods that allowed him first hand observation of real Mafia wiseguys in their natural habitat. Lacking personal reference, the average Harvard or Yale educated screenwriter can only replicate hackneyed versions of the Hollywood mobster archetype.
Goodfellas succeeds largely through the simple banter that bounces between the characters. Short bursts of dialogue from the mouths of violent cunning small minded men with fragile egos convey humor, terror, threat, and microscopic traces of nascent humanity.”I’m funny how?” psychopath Tommy (Joe Pesci) asks after Henry calls him a “funny guy” following Tommy’s amusing bank robbery anecdote. In seconds, a good drinking story, and a well intended compliment segues into potential cataclysmic violence. Moments later, the good vibe returns.
In Goodfellas we find similarities between the old New York Mafia, and our current plutocratic mafia state. For example, to protect himself from violent live wire Tommy, a frightened nightclub owner (Tony Darrow) takes in mob boss Paulie (Paul Sorvino) as a partner. The nightclub owner must now pay Paulie a cut each week regardless of how much money the club makes. Paulie also maxes out the club’s credit to finance his criminal schemes. Soon the club falls into bankruptcy, and for the scam’s grand finale, the gangsters burn down the club to collect on the fire insurance.
Like the nightclub owner we are trapped in a predatory relationship with criminals. Our power elites not only rob our treasury, but run up our former nation’s credit to fund their corporate welfare schemes. Our tax dollars and future pay for the huge bonuses of incompetent Wall Street gangsters, subsidize planet killing Big Oil, and support global wars of genocide that enrich the military industrial complex. After our mobsters bankrupt us, they’ll light a match, and burn what remains of USA inc to the ground. A tragic case of life imitating art.