As far back as I can remember; I’ve always wanted to be a gangster.
All you need to know about this movie is the following two words: Martin Scorsese. This on its own should make you want to watch Goodfellas. I must admit that this was my first time seeing this particular Scorsese movie – I have seen more recent ones like The Departed, Shutter Island, Gangs of New York and The Aviator. All great movies, but a tad bit violent. Though the thing about Scorsese and violence is that even though violence goes hand in hand with almost all of his movies, yet he does not glorify violence by any means. Scorsese’s violence is always messy, ugly and well – violent. He portrays violence how it is – an unthinkably horrible act.
Goodfellas is based on a book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi also co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Scorsese. “Wiseguy” is a true rise-and-fall story of a real-life mobster, Henry Hill. As Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) says in the beginning of the movie – he always wanted to be a gangster. So from a young age Henry starts hanging out and running errands for the neighbourhood’s mob boss, Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino). He then starts pulling jobs with Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), who are part of the same mob crowd. There are several milestones in Hill’s life: first arrest, wedding to Karen (Lorraine Bracco), mistress number one, mistress number two, jail term and running around behind the mob boss’ back dealing cocaine. But the most profound moment is the murder of Billy Batts (Frank Vincent), when everything changes for Henry. From there begins the fall that concludes on one cocaine-fuelled day in 1980.
Anything I wanted was a phone call away.
Goodfellas is not your ordinary gangster film. This does not make you want to be a gangster and unlike in The Godfather, you do not see the gangsters living in big mansions. You see them fighting for survival every day and night. As the real Henry Hill puts it – it was anything but the American Dream.
I don’t think I even need to address the issue that Scorsese is probably the most genius director of our century. The greatness of Goodfellas comes down to Scorsese’s brilliance as a director. And also to his advice to actors who according to Scorsese should not act like the people they are portraying – instead they should behave like them. This gives the movie that magic intensity and sense of reality.
The use of voice-over narrative in Goodfellas is just genius. It increases the level of the relationship between Henry and the audience by giving it more intimacy. The casting is perfect. All fantastic performances – Liotta, Pesci – who won an Oscar for his performance -, De Niro, Sorvino… I could go on and on. One of the interesting performances comes from Scorsese’s mum, who plays Tommy DeVito’s mum in that famous dinner scene. Martin Scorsese’s own roots are deep in the Italian-American community in New York – not that different from the neighbourhood is Goodfellas.
There are many excellent scenes. One is the nightclub scene between Pesci’s and Liotta’s characters. Scorsese shot it with a medium shot (no close-ups), so that the audience is able to see how the people around Tommy and Henry behave. You can see the expressions on their faces changing from laughter into alarm.
The 3rd act in the movie is basically Henry paranoid running around and going home to stir pasta sauce; and then the same again and again – all the time with the same intensity level. Brilliant! Another talent of Scorsese is to take a small detail and blossom it into art – like in the prison sequence the most memorable thing is how thin Paulie cuts the garlic.
So has Goodfellas earned its number 92 spot on the list? Absolutely! It’s also a movie, which should be watched more than once to truly appreciate its brilliance.
Today everything is different; there’s no action… have to wait around like everyone else.