Rated “R” For violence, sexual related scenes, and language
directed by: Martin Scorsese
written by: Nicholas Pileggi
Jimmy was the kind of guy that rooted for bad guys in the movies. -Henry Hill
The opening line, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”, sets the mood for the film. Then we switch to Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) a Irish/Italian who is adopted by the local crime circuit. He and his new friend Tommy DeVito,(Joe Pesci) a full blooded Italian, commence their romp into the world of crime with things as small as petty theft. It’s not long before they move their way slowly up to becoming violent murderers. Bred and raised by the mafia, Henry and Tommy begin to pull off some of the biggest heists of their time. They fall directly under their mentor, the gangster Jimmy Conway (Robert DeNiro). Jimmy, Tommy, and Henry are all lapping up the life of a rich gangster, enjoying their power and their brutality, but it isn’t long before things go off the wire and they head down a path from which they cannot return.
Goodfella’s is actually based on the book written by Nicholas Pileggi called Wiseguy. It’s based on the true story of Henry Hill. Martin Scorsese does one of his most brilliant jobs of directing the this gangster movie. He makes the choice to have Henry Hill narrate throughout the film and I think it was one of the deciding factors that made the viewer connect with the character. There were so many things Henry explained that the viewer wouldn’t have understood. The story is really set up so you understand the true nature of the mafia, what they’ll do for one another, and the type of people that become gangsters. In the early scenes after Henry takes up with Paulie, he talks about people carrying his mothers groceries home for her. And his response to it is they did it out of respect. But Scorsese pans out the movie so that the wide eyed excitement of youth in mafia goes awry when you are riddled with greed and a hunger for power, and suddenly he has the characters unwinding by their own delusion of their invincibility. Scorsese uses his usual gritty style and cinematography that throws you right into the height of Brooklyn. He doesn’t hold back on the graphic displays of violence or intimidation.
There was an “A” list cast to play highly developed, in depth characters that rarely get so evolved onscreen. Jimmy comes off as a tough power house that no one can touch, but DeNiro plays a subtle bit of paranoia that rears it’s head only occasionally. Lorraine, Henry’s wife, even turns down the path of darkness. She helps him hide his drugs and heeds to his needs, while Henry turns down the road of cocaine addict. The only character that doesn’t grow or change is Tommy. He stays tough, angry, and arrogant with the belief he is protected by his position. It is not one dimensional, Tommy is just that bullheaded.
The journey’s that each character takes and the development of the story is remarkable. Since Goodfellas was released in 1990 there has only been one gangster movie that was close to as good as it, and that was The Departed, another Scorsese phenomenon. The scope of the movie, the ability to include so much about the characters, the plot line, and the bigger picture was never lost. Goodfellas gets four out of four stars.