Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay By: Martin Scorsese, Nicholas Pileggi
Release Date: September 19, 1990
Run Time: 148 Minutes
I said last week that this is the film most people call Martin Scorsese’s magnum opus. And with how good this movie is, it isn’t hard to see why. This is a nearly flawless film that was enjoyable from the beginning to the end. Even better, the movie expects you to know that these are bad people who deserve whatever ends they may meet, but it never preaches at you. Instead it focuses on why the life style held its appeal, how it all went wrong and how dangerous it was once everything started to fall apart. This is a story telling choice I’ll talk about more next week, but it is also a main point of interest in this film as well.
The film fallows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) from his youth to his adult life as a high ranking gangster to his downfall as well as the fall of his crime family. We open with Henry and two other men, James Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) on their way to bury a body when they learn that the man in the trunk is still alive. They pull over and finish the job. We then go back to Henry’s childhood after he gives us one of the best opening lines in film (in my opinion of course): “as far back as i can remember i wanted to be a gangster”. Here we we get a glimpse as to why the lifestyle held such appeal for young Henry Hill. He grew up poor, with several children (one wheelchair bound) living in a small house. Across the street were the gangster. They seemed to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to do it and no one, not even the cops, would bother them. For a young, poor boy that life seems life the ideal. And that is coming from experience.
Young Henry soon finds himself working for the crime family doing odd jobes like selling stolen smokes. This part of his life comes to its climax when he gets pinched for the first time. He gets let off, and Paul Cicero (the head of the crime family) and the rest of them are proud of the boy as he didn’t tell the police anything.
We then cut back to the present. From here we watch as Henry goes up the ranks of Italian mob, starting with one of the first big scores. In this score Henry and someone else (I don’t remember who at the moment) steal somewhere around half a million dollars from an airport with out ever having to pullout there guns. Things are good for a while, but then three events happen that really kick the plot into overdrive. This first is when Tommy kills a “made man” and we learn what was going on in the beginning of the film before the flashback. The second is the groups second big score, this time for around 6 million dollars. The third is Henry getting out of prison and entering the drug business.
You see, up until now, watching this felt very much like watching “Mean Streets”. A good movie that lacked any real feeling of connectivity. But here we see where that comparison ends. These events have consequences and lead directly into the resolution of the film. At this point Scorsese had been making movies for nearly 20 years, and that time and practice shows through.
Anyway, the group takes another score, the largest is US history at the time. And Tommy goes kill crazy. Some of the people he kills around this time screwed up in some way, an others he kills out of pretty spite. After awhile the “made men” as forced to kill him. They say it was because he killed another one of the “made men” but it honestly feels like they were just sick of his bullshit. And then we start to see Henry’s trust in the group start to fade away.
As time goes on, Henry starts dealing in drugs, behind the back of the head boss, Paulie. Henry, his wife and his mistress all start using as well as selling and that is what ultimately leads to his down fall. He gets caught and Pauile and the others are forced to turn their backs on him. With this betrayal as well as his own growing distrust of the gang, when it comes time for the trial, Henry snitches and leads to the arrest of most the higher ups and bringing down that crime family.
This is a good movie. If you haven’t seen it you should definitely go do that. Scorsese here perfected the art of telling the story of a mans life, with all it’s chaos and randomness while still telling a great, cohesive story. This is, in my opinion, the gangster movie. If you only ever watch one movie about gangsters or the mod, let it be this one. You will not be disapointed.