Ray Liotta as Henry Hill
Robert De Niro as Jimmy Conway
Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito
Lorraine Bracco as Karen Hill
Paul Sorvino as Paulie Cicero
Based on Wiseguy, a book about mafia life as told by real life ex-gangster Henry Hill, Goodfellas is a true classic. It describes the life of Henry as he first starts working for a local mob as a little boy and grows up to be what they call a wiseguy.
The meat of the movie is Henry’s gangster career in the 1960s and 1970s when he befriended and was often teamed with two other gangsters — a veteran criminal named Jimmy and a yakking but violently hotheaded perp named Tommy. Additionally Henry found himself in a blind date with a woman named Karen that somehow lead to marriage.
This movie was written and directed by Martin Scorsese and is generally seen as his signature piece of work. As opposed to the humanist approach of The Godfather, this film tries to show us the absolute ugliness of organized crime. One of my favorite scenes is a montage of mobsters who were “whacked” by Jimmy because they foolishly bought big after a historic bank robbery when the crew was hot. Scenes like this show us the face of evil, so to speak.
Not that Goodfellas is all black and white. We do get a viewed into the characters minds. They have classically Catholic family lives even though many of them are cheaters. More to the point, we see the perverse rationalizations of what they do (“it’s the police department for wiseguys.” “they’re blue-collar guys.”) We even see that outside of work, they act like your average residents of Brooklyn or the Bronx.
Naturally, these excuses are a crock of shit. Not-so-poor Henry gets in trouble and has nowhere to turn. The Mafia is not only morally wrong, it’s a dangerous life. Like live crab; it can be tasty but sometimes it snaps.
On a less serious note I have some things for sharp-eyed fans to watch out for. Paul Sorvino plays the boss in this movie but was ironically a star in the hit TV show Law and Order (and I thought he was pretty bad on that show but never mind that). Henry’s wife is played by Lorraine Bracco, who also plays Tony’s psychiatrist on the Sopranos (and was actually quite good there). She’s not the only star of that show in this movie either, just look. Finally, Frank Vincent plays Billy Batts, who is absolutely hated by Tommy. Ironically, Vincent and Pesci’s gangster characters in Goodfellas get partnered up. The fates of these two sets of Pesci/Vincent characters is even more ironic.
Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies. While Scorsese wasn’t able to repeat his success here (in my opinion), it’s still a grand example of how to make a gangster movie.
Overall: 9 out of 10