Reasons why this is my favourite film (I've watched it around 30 times in 2 or 3 years):
* It's as authentic as Martin Scorsese ever gets. He lived this film and you get that from the first minute. He also wrote it, which is pretty unusual for a Scorsese film.
* The opening quote: "You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is BS and you know it".
* The opening titles over 1970's family home videos. I love it, and the song too, 'Be my Baby'. Any time you hear that song after watching this film you see Charlie's head hit the pillow and the credits start up. The wall of sound music makes me well up, in a happy way. Note: Martin Scorsese appears (young and sporting a very '70's hairstyle) for a fraction of a second during these. You only see him if you spend five minutes looking for it by using the the pause or slow button on your remote control!
* The end scene (CAR CHASE! YES!). I'm not giving anything away here, but it was a scene that became an influence and source of admiration for many directors for a reason. Unforgettable.
* There's not a speck of filler in this film, even during the laid back moments in bars. It's lean and mean.
* It's also hilarious. People often miss the fact that Scorsese films are rich in humour and often very quotable (e.g. "Mook? I'm a mook? What's a mook? I'll give you mook!" *thump* N.B. A mook is a kind of bigmouth, all talk and no substance).
* The semi-docudrama look. I often prefer this style to high-budget gloss.
* The fact that it's not only a realistic portrayal of gangster life (supposedly, I wouldn't know) but a rich and deeply felt portrayal of a community. The people of this community don't chase violence - violence seems to follow directly after them. Scorsese's dubious glamourisation of thugs, thieves and killers would come later.
* Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro both give excellent performances. De Niro shines in one of his greatest early moments - he just doesn't get more entertaining than this. Keitel proves that he can be both macho and sympathetic, and, importantly, that he can equal De Niro in the acting department. I would actually say that Keitel is the better actor in this movie due to his his understatement. Of course a quieter performance doesn't automatically mean a better one, but here you can tell that De Niro is trying to outdo Keitel through a little overacting. But Keitel's performance, in my opinion, is less manic and more thoughtful, insightful. You sense his guilt and frustration without seeing him explode completely. It's more heartfelt. You feel his pain growing throughout the movie. Having said that, De Niro is still very convincing despite being occasionally over the top and certainly delivers in the entertainment department. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' indeed.
* 1970's New York. The grime, crime, streets, real people and their experiences, the city at night, atmosphere, mob, clothes, haircuts, look and sounds, etc. It's fascinating and exciting despite (or due to) its being shadowy and gritty. I'm 27 years old and British but this film makes me feel like I was there. Remember the quote from Once Upon a Time in America: "I like the smell of the streets, it opens up my lungs"! (also De Niro). You don't just see and hear this film, you can almost breathe it in.
* The music. Songs by The Rolling Stones are used to great effect, but the whole film is a jukebox of eclectic music from many eras. And if you enjoy Neapolitan love songs, there are many here. If you don't, you soon will!
* The classic quotes. "What's da matter wi' me? What's da matter wiCHOO?" Never gets old.
* The use of a live (and rare) rendition of Steppin' Out by Cream over the car chase.
* The very last song. It's a corny old Italian/Sicilian tune sung by a group of very patriotic amateurs, and I always find myself listening to it until the end credits are completely finished rolling.
* The Sicilian/Italian American accents.
* It made me want to learn Italian! I did learn Italian. I sucked, but I tried.
* It runs at the pace it wants to, i.e. it can be slow. But this isn't a story you can shoot through like a bullet, it needs your attention if you want to appreciate it at all. If you have attention deficit disorder don't bother. If you want a movie with a quick buildup of pace, a truckload of special effects and sounds that blast at you crudely like insane foghorns, watch Shutter Island or something like it. If you want a good story with engaging and complex characters, watch this - twice at least.
Overall an excellent film for Scorsese fans and admirers, movie buffs, cineastes and the like, but also makes for great entertainment.