Friday, April 5, 2013

Goodfellas vs The Godfather

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As Americans we generally tend to cheer for the good guys. We love to see those who are fighting for what’s right win. This seems to hold true in all aspects except for movies involving the “mafia”. In these movies men whose ideas are the ones we are cheering for, these characters fight generally to make money and gain power, a major part of the American dream. These men’s American dreams seem to be a bit different than the rest of ours though, they do not believe in our government, and they have their own secret societies. Two of the most popular titles in this genre are the Godfather series and Goodfellas. These movies were made in the same era and are have similar themes but are different in many aspects.

The Godfather which was a major blockbuster was made in 17 and directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Marlon Brando and a young Al Pacino. This is probably one of the most intelligently made movies that fall into the mafia category. Pacino stars as Vito Corleone’s son who has just come home from the military and becomes involved in the “family business”. Unlike many of its contemporaries, it does not have much violence. The minimal violence that is in it is used to help move along the story, and not as a draw for the movie. It has been said that the violence in this movie is justified, meaning that there was a reason for it, part being retaliation for the killing of family members, or the family being double-crossed. In the Godfather, Al Pacino plays Michael Corleone, the son of Vito Corleone played by Marlon Brando, whose raspy voice is unforgettable in this role. In the opening scene it is Michael’s sister Connie’s wedding, and he has come with his girlfriend at the time, Kay, who is played by Diane Keaton. She has not been brought up in this life that he is part of and does not understand what is going on around her. She sees Luca Brasi rehearsing what he is going to say to the Don and is inquisitive about his actions. This is our first sign as the audience that she does not belong in this part of Michael’s life.

The scenery in a majority of the film is quite dark, with old sounding Italian music playing ominously in the background. A lot of the movie takes place within the family compound, due to that many of the characters are part of the Corleone family, meaning that there are not too many unnecessary and unimportant characters. Though, there is one part of the movie in which Michael must “hide-out” after he kills a police-officer, and he goes on the lam to Sicily. This portion of the movie has beautiful scenery in which they show the Italian country-side. Since there is a fairly small cast and this a long movie it goes quite in depth as far as the story line. Unlike many of the other “mob” movies made this film is generally categorized as a drama rather than an “action” movie due to the fact that it involves much more of a psychological aspect, rather than just mob guys killing each other off. Many men of today’s society tend to view this as one of if not the best movie made.

On the other hand, Goodfellas which was made a few years later than The Godfather tends to be more of a violent movie, with the characters delving into the seedy business of drugs. This is probably the second most popular “mafia movie” next to the Godfather. The reason I would tend to assume that it is falls short of the above mentioned is that it is less of an intelligent movie and relies more on violence to carry it. Ray Liotta stars in the movie, which was directed by Martin Scorsese who tends to make more violent films as it is. This was not Scorsese’s first time working with Robert De Niro, who is also in the movie playing Jimmy Conway; they worked together also on Raging Bull and Taxi Driver before they made this movie.

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From the opening scene in which Liotta, De Niro, and Joe Pesci are murdering a man in the trunk of a car the film continues to be violent and full of murder. This movie follows Henry Hill from childhood, where he first started working for the mobsters at the age of 1 to his untimely arrest on drug charges. Ray Liotta gives us the performance of a lifetime here going from an up and coming mobster to a cocaine dealer/user. When he first is talking about his childhood and the local mob guys on his block he tells the audience, “As far back as I can remember Ive always wanted to be a gangster”. De Niro as Jimmy Conway, a mobster who will never be a “made guy” due to his mother’s Irish heritage gives us an awe inspiring performance. Joe Pesci plays Tommy De Vito who is a gangster with a taste for blood; he is hot tempered and does not think twice before killing somebody.

Though this movie is usually categorized with the Godfather as one of the best movies ever made, it falls short due to several things. It lacks the intelligence that made the Godfather the film that it is, and tries to make up for it with the onslaught of violence in a much more gory fashion than we saw in the Godfather. The Godfather had a few scenes which involved murder, the most gruesome being one where a dead horse is laid in bed with a movie director who awakes to being covered in his prized possession’s blood. Besides that, there is one scene where Michael played by Al Pacino kills a police officer in a restaurant and we don’t see much blood. Other than these two scenes murder is mostly just mentioned without much visual, or you see the act occurring but not the end result which would be the dead body or the blood.

In Goodfellas, they commit many murders as well as many scenes with people being beaten up, just not to the point of death. In one scene, the guys are playing cards and a young man working in their social club tells Pesci’s character to go “Fck himself”. Following this, Pesci pulls out a gun and shoots the kid, for no other reason than he was disrespected. In another scene, the dead bodies of men who committed a heist with them are being found and you see one man hanging dead in a meat truck, while another is shot along with his wife and they are left in their car in the middle of a parking lot.

Besides just the violence, the drug use adds a different element to Goodfellas that we did not see in the Godfather. Though it is acknowledged as against the rules of the “mafia” in both movies, Hill takes it up while in Jail in Goodfellas. This element of drugs that we see in the Goodfellas is used to add to the downfall of Liotta’s character. He must sneak around behind the back of his boss to deal these drugs, and then becomes an addict himself. It is a sin punishable by death in their “society” to be caught dealing drugs. When Hill finally gets caught and arrested, he must go to Pauly, his boss, and apologize as well as ask for money to get himself back on his feet. After knowing each other for a majority of Henry’s life Pauly gives him ,000 dollars and tells him that he better not ever see his face again. Towards the end of the movie we see a much different Henry Hill than we saw at the beginning. He is very paranoid, running all over town, “coked up” and trying to figure out who is getting what, going even to the point of involving his children’s babysitter in his drug scheme. Visually as well he is different, looking quite pale and unkempt during this portion, it also looks like he has lost weight.

These are two of the most well respected and revered “mafia movies” that have been made. They are both popular for their own reasons; some respect the intelligence of the Godfather, while others enjoy the violence of Goodfellas. They are similar in many aspects, even though they have some major differences. In conclusion, they are both well made films which should be looked at in their own light. If the Godfather defined how we see the mafia, then Goodfellas gave us a refresher eighteen years later.

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