“If I remember correctly, I always wanted to be a gangster.”, the trailer of One of ours (goodfellasMartin Scorsese, 1990) in 1990 and, since then, not only has this line become a classic phrase in the history of cinema, but the film has been gaining followers over time and is today considered one of Scorsese’s best works, it is say, American cinema.
I’m sorry I don’t share that enthusiasm because the Scorsese I like the most is the most tortured and complex of Wild bull either Taxi Driver and, on the other hand, mafia movies can only be compared to the immortal trilogy by Coppola and the Corleones, as perfect as it is unattainable. Now, it’s fair to say that Scorsese (Marty, to friends) was very clever in adapting Henry Hill’s mafia memoirs written by Nicholas Pileggi, turning away from the sumptuous and operatic elegance of Coppola, to go down to the New York streets in which he himself grew up and portray Italians who are not so elegant and impeccable, but who try to be elegant, but remain grotesque and extravagant (the sopranos come from here).
Hill (ray liotta) is the protagonist who is going to tell us his life in the first person. After the famous epilogue in the car, which stops due to a strange noise to discover that the man in the trunk is still alive and that is why he kicks… not for long; the film takes us to those American streets with long cars, fire hydrants and greasy fat men sitting in T-shirts at the doors of houses on the ground. Marty shoots on the very same street where Hill made his name within the organization, so verisimilitude is guaranteed in all respects.
The main cast is completed by Italian-American actors (such as Scorsese) who contribute their charisma and sanguine character whenever necessary, that is, quite a few times. Paul Sorvino as a sober boss with a slow character, because he sets the pace; Lorraine Bracco like Hill’s Jewish wife, who confesses to getting turned on by her husband’s weapons (firearms); robert deniro like James Conway, an expert in robberies whose ambition will end up detonating the group; either Joe Pesci, small but psychopathic bully who creates one of those irritating characters of unstoppable loquacity that would be funny if it weren’t for the fact that he will shoot you four times just for telling him to. Pesci would win his only Oscar for this film.
And it is that, although Ray Liotta is the protagonist, clearly his character is diminished and placed in the background by those mentioned in the previous paragraph. Sorvino’s greatness and the less of him is more. In a strange twist, his wife also begins speaking to the viewer in a voice-over, stealing the spotlight from Hill. De Niro’s charisma need not be presented and look at who was in the center on the poster for the movie. Not to mention the overwhelming presence of Pesci who has the best scenes, the most violent and, therefore, the most memorable.
The film also plays with the moral ambiguity of mythologizing the gangster and his life. With the Corleones, we all knew that it was terrifying just to get close to them, but with this gang of new rich people, fun seems to predominate, family parties in a closed group, good food and drink, easy sex… “Only those who want to go to jail”, Henry will say, blinded by success and easy corruption. It is clear that this will not be the case, but that they take away our dancing, some aspiring mafiosillo who gets lost in the tinsel of the Copacabana (that mythical sequence shot from the entrance through the kitchen to the front row that represents the rise of Henry Hill It’s the best of the movie.
Curiously, as it happened in the first godfather, the drug will end the racket. Don Vito already warned that he did not want to know anything about her and in One of ours Paul Sorvino’s character says something similar… which is not heard by Henry. The cocaine and the robbery of Lufthansa will be the icing on the cake of a mountain of snow, crimes and deaths that will end with Henry’s paranoia (is the helicopter chasing him or is the helicopter in his head?) and his entry into the program witness protection. This last part of the film is dizzying and fast-paced, it is a very Scorsesian high that exhausts the viewer (as in the most deranged yet The wolf of Wall Street), but that is understandable because it goes hand in hand with Hill’s fall into the abyss and his famous final shot with the worst thing that could happen to him: falling into the “normality” of being a guy who gets up to pick up the newspaper and the milk in the morning. That is his jail.
We could talk about the excellent use of the soundtrack, not because of the quality of the singers, but because of the titles that ironically comment on the film. To cite a couple of examples: the first is the Rags to Riches by Tony Bennett (“From rags to riches”, when traveling to Hill’s childhood) or the last one, the my way by Sid Vicious (“My way”, but in the garish and disheveled version of Vicious, a reflection of Hill himself).
However, I prefer to end with Marty’s mother cameo as the mother of Pesci’s character. When they stop by the house one night for a shovel to bury the boot man, the three of them are forced to stay for dinner at her insistence. “Tommy, why don’t you find yourself a nice girl and get married? “But I already look for a girl every night!”. Laughter and more food, with the corpse in the trunk. Mamma mia.