3.5 out of 4 stars
Okay, I have to admit it; all these gangster movies really blur together after a while. Whereas I usually have a strong preference for forming my own opinion before reading any other reviews, I’ve found that films from this genre only really become legible for me after I find and read a piece that puts the innovations of that film into focus for me. To take just a trivial example, it’s hard to even think of this film as particularly violent, even 18 years later, yet the article reminds us how it was viewed at the time.
All this is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I felt like the youth scenes were particularly well done, setting the tone quite effectively and avoiding sentimentality. The narration really holds the film together (why does every film I see recently have it?), and the addition of narration by the female lead, Lorraine Bracco, is a particularly nice touch, as it injects some hint of female agency (as uninspiring as her character actually is) into the hyper-macho proceedings.
Unfortunately, Bracco’s narration seems to disappear about halfway through the film, right when we most want to know what she was thinking. That’s not the only problem I had with the picture. In particular, I’m not quite convinced by Ray Liotta, however; is he supposed to sound like a psycho when he laughs (Joe Pesci seems to have that role taken) or is he just supposed to seem like someone who’s trying too hard (or is that the actor, not the character?). Pesci and Robert De Niro also largely content themselves with hamming it up and revisiting their personas, which only pushes me towards my blasphemous suspicion that De Niro doesn’t quite merit the hallowed tones with which people usually speak of him.
That said, there’s a lot of style here and I think it all works. There’s also a good helping of social critique, although I was a bit oblivious to it while watching it. I feel like the glorification of gangster mythology (particularly in gangsta rap, with which I am ultimately more familiar than the films that inspired it) has really obscured the meaningful (if not unproblematic) things that the filmmakers were trying to say, even in a film that tries to demystify everything. I also feel like I will probably be taking a break from this genre for the time being!
Source: Warner DVD
9 Sep, 9:55 PM