Last night was not the first time I have watched Goodfellas, but it had been a long time. It still packs a wallop, but I don’t think I will need to ever watch it again. I enjoyed seeing all of the actors I recognized from The Sopranos, especially Lorraine Bracco. She is a fascinating character. I think that for a movie about the men who need to control other’s through violence, and the lengths men will go to in ensuring their position in a criminal syndicate, the really interesting characters were the women.
I can’t get over the mother of Joe Pesci’s character, who insists on preparing a huge meal for her son and his friends when they arrive in the middle of the night, covered in blood, looking for shovels and knives. The motivation of that character is so fascinating. Her definition of “caring for your family” is to be blind, to give selflessly, to not ask questions, and to feed her hungry men. That was definitely my favorite scene in the film. That mother, just looking at her son, asking why he hasn’t settled down with girl and given her grandkids, while he simultaneously says he needs to borrow her 12 inch butcher knife to cut the leg off a deer that hit his car…so brilliant.
Lorraine Bracco, as Henry Hill’s wife, Karen, was fantastic. To see how quickly she went from shock over the lifestyle she was being drawn into, to acceptance over the lies she would be forced to live with, to being an active player in criminal enterprise, is simply comical. According to the book written by the real children of Karen and Henry (“On the Run: A Mafia Childhood”), the scene where Hill beats Karen’s neighbor with a gun, and then hands her the bloody gun to hide, was totally true. Talking to kids about this event, she did acknowledge that it turned her on to be witness to something so raw and violent. The motivation of her, the real life woman, and the character, is baffling.
Goodfellas is not my favorite crime movie. It’s hard to get past the caricatures of some of the men. But the women in the movie are electric. Henry’s girlfriend, the mob wives, the mothers of Henry and Karen, the woman who transports the drugs and money to and from Pennsylvania…all just incredible! I understand why people enjoy it, but for me, it’s all about the women behind the men, the ones who normalize the violence.