Bottom Line: Goodfellas. Wise guys. Fantastic movie.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Chuck Low, Frank Sivero, Frank Vincent, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Mike Starr, Paul Sorvino, Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Tony Darrow
“When I left you, I was but the learner, now I am the master.” –Darth Vader
The above quote applies directly with Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas. It’s as if the entire film bears a subliminal message to Francis Ford Coppola, one of Scorsese’s largest influences. The film, at 2 hours and 26 minutes, delivers a story that is essentially the entire multi-decade Godfather chronology in a nutshell; Henry Hill is easily comparable to Michael Corleone, as is Karen Hill to Kay Adams and James Conway to Vito Corleone. We can’t dismiss this as a misstep. The Godfather is an apt title for the role it plays in governing the crime genre, and it would take some newly discovered marvel, who works with celluloid just as well as Liberace works with ivories, to direct a film that doesn’t take anything from that criterion. And I’m not saying that F.F. Coppola handed down everything down to Scorsese for this 1990 work. After all, the picture still remains his chef d’oeuvre, alongside such unforgettable earlier work as Raging Bull and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.
From the very start, GoodFellas guarantees an audience’s undivided attention, all eyes affixed to the screen, no matter how violent it gets. The in medias res technique is used for the opening sequence, perhaps as a prologue to explain the life of a gangster using as few words as possible. Most of the film is told by narration from Henry Hill, portrayed flawlessly by Ray Liotta. Not five minutes have passed before he expresses everything his life has ever meant to him. “As far back as I can remember,” he narrates, “I always wanted to be a gangster.” Hill is a Sicilian Mafia member, indulging in NYC crime whenever he gets an opportune moment, regardless of how much this hobby-turned-job whitewashes his personal life, in which he is struggling in finance and as a husband and a father. The most peculiar component about this all is how harmless he looks, in his adolescent and adult years alike–contrary to what it sounds, this actually makes the film so much more intoxicating.
GoodFellas is the kind of mob movie we rarely ever come across. Not until 2006 did we get another just as well-made American crime thriller about a Europe-based mob. Incidentally, Scorsese directed that feat as well, but especially after seeing the mastermind he proved himself in this near impeccable beauty–the one that should have triumphed as The Godfather Part III–it’s not one bit a surprise.
Note: I know I’m not the first person to wonder this, and the billionth probably passed a long time ago, but why did this lose it’s Best Picture nomination, particularly to Dances with Wolves?
2nd Note: Apparently my review was pretty timely. I believe it is an important note that the film was based on a true story. Henry Hill, who looks very much like actor Ray Liotta, actually died quite recently: June 12th, just a day after his 69th birthday.