Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Tommy DeVito

OK, so I know I promised no more De Niro for awhile...but I just went out and rented "Goodfellas" from the video store, and I simply couldn't leave it alone. Not for one minute. I will say, in my defense, that De Niro is not the focus of the film; no, he is rather a backdrop to two younger men whose lives the film tends to follow. With its genuine, real-world style dialog and blatant disregard for human squeamishness, "Goodfellas" is often remembered as one of the most crass, vulgar and violent mobster flicks ever made. Directed by the great Marty Scorsese and acted by two (and I do mean two, Ray Liotta) of the greatest mafia actors ever to appear on screen, "Goodfellas" follows the story of the young, Irish-Italian gangster wanna-be Henry Hill, growing up in East Brooklyn in the 1950s. The opening line of the film kind of sets the tone..."Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be a gangster". The story follows Henry Hill's rise through the ranks of the New York mafia during its golden age, from the time when he was 15 up to what I would assume to be his mid-20s (the film isn't specific). As a teenager, he gets work at a cab stand run by the local mafia, particularly a fella named Tutti and his big brother, Paulie (brilliantly played by Paul Sorvino). After getting a taste of mafia life, Henry quits school and starts working full time for the cab service. Most of his childhood years are left pretty vague and open to interpretation, but at one point during his service he meets another up-and-coming gangster by the name of Tommy DeVito. Tommy is played by Joe Pesci, and is one of the funniest psychopaths ever to appear on screen. Basically, the two grow up together and end up getting a huge job for an unspeakable amount of money, and the storyline moves along from there.

DISCLAIMER: There may or not be some spoiler information in the next few paragraphs, so read at your own risk.

So, let's talk about the direction of this film. Martin Scorsese has always been one of my very favorite directors (Raging Bull, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets), and "Goodfellas" is another Scorsese gem. The film is not particularly 'artful' in its shots like many of Scorsese's pictures are, but one of the things that stands out, I think, is the screenplay. "Goodfellas" was based on a novel by Nicholas Pileggi, and adapted for the screen over the course of 12 drafts by Scorsese and Pileggi. I think that the dialog in "Goodfellas" is done really, really well. The conversations between characters seem more like real life than any film I've ever seen, and the mobster terminology is well taken to by De Niro and Pesci especially, as well as other characters. Speaking of Pesci's This film is 9th on Wikipedia's list of films that use the word "fuck" the most. "Goodfellas" has a whopping 300 fucks, thanks almost entirely to Pesci. Incidentally, number 4 on the list is another Scorsese/Pesci/De Niro picture. Another mobster flick, "Casino" has 398 fucks in it, almost 100 more than the seemingly insurmountable "Goodfellas" number. This makes "Goodfellas" almost funny to watch. Pesci's New York accent and quick, sharp way of speaking makes for a good fuckin' time.

Then there is the issue of Mr. Tommy DeVito; arguably one of Joe Pesci's greatest roles, Tommy DeVito is a completely psychopathic mobster who doesn't give two hoots whether he kills someone for ratting him out or for bringing his drink too slow. Tommy is an interesting character; he is undoubtedly an antihero, one of the craziest bastards ever to show up in a Scorsese film, and rooting for him as a viewer would seem absurd because of his unrivaled insanity, especially compared to the other seemingly mellower characters in the film. But, despite the opening scene in which he brutally stabs an already-bloodied victim in the trunk of his car, and a later scene in which he shoots and kills a waiter at a card game for not getting his order right, you find yourself laughing at his antics and feeling sad when you learn of his fate.

"Goodfellas" is probably the best mobster flick I've ever seen outside of the first two Godfather films. It's action-packed, historically accurate, funny, dramatic and acted really well by everyone on set. Lorraine Bracco also deserves an honorable mention as Karen Hill, Henry's cheated-on and neglected coke-snorting wife. She does a great job as a Long Island broad who knows exactly what's up in the lives of her husband and her friends. This film was put out in 1990 by Marty Scorsese, and lives on today as one of the top crime dramas of (roughly) our generation. Also, I've heard tell of a film to come out within the next year or two, directed by Scorsese and starring De Niro, Pesci, and the great Al be on the look out for that. There will definitely be a review of that film if and when it comes out, despite how recent a film it is. That's all for today...see you!


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