Tuesday, March 02, 2010
Goodfellas: Are these guys really good fellas
Martin Scorcese's Goodfellas (1990) is an interesting film to analyze ethically. Even though it came out in the 90's technically, it was filmed and written in the 80's in a time when the American mafia was a huge issue as it spilled over from the Sicilian mafia. The mafia was involved in drugs, extortions, prostitution, and all sorts of black market activity.
The protagonist Henry (Ray Liotta) grows up in New York in a mafia neighborhood, and goes against his parents' will and starts running errands for the mafia crew across the street. Scorcese and many directors alike usually portray the mafia in a sort of positive light, in that they are tough and sort of cool guys. Scorcese portrays Paulie (Paul Sorvino), the head mafiosi, continually throughout the film as a good guy who uses his brain to make morally right decisions. Henry's parents seem like jerks from the way they treat him and Paulie seems like the great guy.
The other two main mafiosi are Jimmy (Robert de Niro) and Tommy (Joe Pesci). Tommy ends up being killed because he messed with a guy who was a "made man." The mafia bosses, above Paulie even, set up Tommy, telling him that they are "making" him, and kill him for violating one of their own. But just because they say that a guy is a "made guy" it's alright to beat up whoever they want? It's as if they're some sort of controlling force who can demand people to ethically behave while they "the mafia" can reign free.
And the mafia is a problem that cannot be controlled. If anyone threatens the mafia, those people's families will be put through unimaginable torture. And yet, in film, the mafia is portrayed, except in rare films, as the good guys. Film critics are willing to put aside the fact that people kill for a living because mafiosi are tough guys that are entertaining to watch.