Gangster films are films about organized criminal activity. These films are the subgenre of action films and crime films. Gangster films are usually about gangsters who search for money, respect and welfare.
“Gangster films typically focus on the power struggles within gangs rather than on the policemen who try to stop them. The most common storyline depicts an individual's rise to power within the organization, followed by his betrayal and murder by the gang or being killed by police. This story offers a moral message against crime, while also permitting the audience to enjoy the gangster's exploits” (Gangsterfilms n.d.).
Gangster films rose swiftly after the invention of synchronized sound in Hollywood.
“Hollywood gangster films really earned their place on the motion picture history map during the 1930's and 1940's. At this time, the streets of New York and Chicago were the epicenters of violent crime in America, and Hollywood decided to use this period in history to generate profits by depicting a sensationalized gangster culture on film” (DiNello, 2006).
This was one of the main socio-historical causes of the origination of gangster films. Hollywood wanted to show the real life on the screen.
The great interest to gangster films grew simultaneously with the rise of illegal alcohol market during the “dry law”, and reached its popularity during the great depression.
“In American cinema the gangster genre exploded in popularity after the great depression due to the failed economy of the United States” (Bigueur, 2010).
The main symbols of gangster films are “money, guns, women, police, jail, grimy locations” (SlideShare Inc, 2010).
Money presents the ultimate desire to be reach and influential in the society. Guns show violence and power. A symbol of women is used to show prosperity but not a true love. Police is a symbol of law, which is highly despises by gangsters. Grimy locations and jail are the symbols of perfidy.
The film “Goodfellas” is the outstanding example of the gangster film. It is one of the best films that gives a description of the way of life, morals and manners of the gangsters. This film is about life in the Mafia surroundings, and how in order to survive there, and then live “happily ever after”, one must respect the opinion of senior and experienced patron. The film examines gangsters not as troublemakers but as people of higher class. Without a doubt, the film is biographical. There are many moments that make the film even somewhat documentary – dates, events, a description of what happened with people whose lives have been shown in the picture. The film is narrated by Henry, the main hero, and sometimes, interrupted by the story of Karen, his wife. The film cannot be considered dynamic, but tedious it also cannot be called.
The film begins with the sounds of the car engine and tyres that introduce the genre. Then follows the black screen with the caption "New York, 1970" that helps understand the place and time where the events develop. The film begins with the cruelty and violence. The main characters appeared as adults on the screen. They are in the car and hear the noise from the trunk. They stop to examine it and find out that their prey from the trunk is not dead. Tommy strikes him with the knife for several times, and then, Jimmy kills him with a revolver. Scorsese stops the film on the Henry`s face and then voice begins. Scorsese uses such method during all the films to intensify narrative.
The narrative is not linear. The film begins in the time of 1970. Then there is a flashback to Henry`s childhood. It is clear because of the voice that says “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster” (Goodfellas, 1990). This phrase is obvious because it was a hard time. It was the time of the great depression, and the United States has failed economy. There were no highly paid works. Most of the families scratched along. It was a dream for Henry to become a gangster because they have a lot of privileges. “They were not like anybody else; they did whatever they wanted, they double parked in front of hydrant and nobody gave them a ticket” (Goodfellas, 1990).
There are ideological discourses in the film. Gangsters are vile, and traditionally, there must be no sympathy with them, but sympathy is present. Gender is one more ideological discourse. There are only few females in the film. They are only the resource of the welfare, and they are lower than males. One more ideology is making money. It is not the main topic of the film, but most of the characters like money, and they do everything to receive more. They can rob, kill, burn the property in order to get profit, but there are unwritten rules for everyone inside the organization. The main of them are: to hold one's tongue and not to betray the friends.
The film accomplished in a unique style. The fantasy of the director is unbelievable. Scorsese created the long scenes that were shot with a single plan: the camera moves from the first person perspective while on the screen, life goes on.
A major spice of "Goodfellas" is that there is no unnecessary pathos and romance. Here, no one dies a tragic death, no one gets in the righteous way, here one will not find a sickly-sweet moral. Scorsese shows the life of "Goodfellas" with their advantages and disadvantages. The film is about what a wide gulf lies between ordinary people and so-called criminal environment, the facts that there are other laws and that the frivolous and carefree life conceals many dangers, and death waits for one when one least expects it. The life of a gangster - is a solid business. Murder, grabbing, robbery are all business, and nothing personal. All the ostentatious friendship among gangsters is not more than a business. There are no censures and admonitions in the film. Each viewer will make the verdict on the life of Henry Hill, who experienced all the joys and sorrows not only of the "glorious life", but also the life of an ordinary citizen.