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Jake Ahlquist

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About Jake Ahlquist

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  1. Jake Ahlquist

    Goodfellas

    Great episode -- honestly, it's kind of a thrill to watch (or listen to, in this case) someone tear into a sacred cow. Amy pulls no punches -- Kael would be proud. But I've still got bones to pick. Re: the last thirty minutes: of course the brother and the dinner aren't as important as the guns or the drugs. If Henry still had his life under control, he would know that, but he doesn't. He's too coked up for that. His mind is mush, he doesn't know which way is up, and he has no sense of priority. It makes no sense for the Henry Hill of the first half to make these kinds of mistakes, but that Henry Hill doesn't exist anymore. Amy and Paul both talked a fair amount about the relatively short life span of a mobster -- that's what this last third of the film drives home for me. Sooner or later, everyone makes a mistake, especially the ones who can't keep their noses clean. In a funny way, though, drugs kind of save Henry Hill's life. If it weren't for the blow, Henry might have stayed in the business long enough to get killed or wind up in Sing Sing for life. Death or prison - there's no other ending. To pivot to another problem Amy has with the movie, I think this is what's going on for Jimmy in the scene where he destroys the phone booth after hearing about Tommy's death. It's not so much that he's grieving the loss of his friend -- he's grieving his own life. Out of the three of them, Tommy was the only one who could get made, and even he ends up getting whacked. On some level, I think Jimmy realizes in that moment that the same thing is going to happen to him. He's dedicated thirty years of his life to a business that will literally kill him one day. That's the deal he made -- it's the same deal every gangster makes. And sure, on some level, every one who works for the mob knows how the story has to end, but it's human nature to think that your story is going to be different, right up to the moment that someone puts a gun in your face. Not everyone gets to have that moment of reckoning. (SPOILERS FOR THE IRISHMAN) Interesting, too, to think that De Niro goes on to play Frank Sheeran, another character who has to reckon with the trade-offs he made for a life in organized crime. The Irishman and Goodfellas both are sort of "best case scenario" mob movies: either you end up in witness protection, or you get out of jail an old man and you die alone, ruminating on the lives you ended, the people you betrayed and alienated, all for what? As for why there are so many mob movies on the AFI list, I think that there's something uniquely American about mob stories. These films -- Goodfellas, The Godfather Saga, even On the Waterfront -- are all about the intersection of business and family. Sometimes that family is aspect is literal, but for the most part it's a metaphor or a stand-in. I think a lot about the language used in American businesses, big and small, that emphasize the importance of family. The implication is, particularly in more working class jobs, that you should be willing to make sacrifices for your bosses and co-workers, that your co-workers are your brothers and sisters, and that your bosses are Mommy and Daddy. They'll protect you, they say. They'll take care of you, they say. So you stick your neck out for them, you work hard and they reap the benefits of your labor (I'm starting to sound like the communists in Hail, Caesar!), and you don't ever dare to question their authority, even when you're putting your own family at risk (for an example, take a look at the way major corporations are treating their low-wage employees in the middle of a pandemic). Mob stories have an intrinsic relationship to American capitalism -- trick people into doing dangerous work for (relatively) low wages by exploiting their relationship to the word "family." Sure, the characters in Goodfellas and The Godfather seem to be pretty well off, but then every corporation needs upper and mid-level management. On the Waterfront and The Irishman are about the grunts. In any case, great episode as always, but if anything I think Goodfellas should be WAY higher on the list.
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