Wiseguys are not called that for nothing. They’re taking chances, making lots of money and living the big life. People respect the Mob, that’s not new. Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) doesn’t want to be a dumbass loser who works from 9 to 5. He’s gonna be one of the guys. He hasn’t even finished high school that he’s already working for Paulie (Paul Sorvino), the Godfather of the hood. He starts out parking cars and serving drinks and slowly makes his way up. He befriends Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), an old pro, and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), an aggressive, crazy son of a bitch. They’re happy with their lifestyle. Hill has more money than he can handle, a wife (Lorraine Bracco), kids and a girlfriend. But crimes sometimes go wrong, and people go to jail or get wacked…
“Goodfellas” is about that, but also much more. It’s an epic tale filled with events happening over a period of 30 years. The screenplay’s based on a Nicholas Pileggi non-fiction book that’s all kinds of fascinating. We meet lots of people and there’s a whole lotta stuff going on, it’s relentless! Every scene is gripping, whether it’s a conversation that leads to a murder or a dinner at Mom’s.
Martin Scorsese outdid himself on this film. The storytelling is impeccable; I love the way Henry Hill’s voice-over narration gives us a glimpse into the lifestyle of mobsters. Scorsese’s visual style is dazzling as usual, full of bravado camerawork and snappy editing. And what about the music cues! I’ll never listen to Derek &the Dominos‘ Layla the same way, and then there’s countless other perfectly used cuts from Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, The Shangri-Las, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Harry Nilsson, The Who, George Harrison, Muddy Watters, Sid Vicious and many more.
There are countless brilliantly crafted sequences. There’s the extended Steadicam shot that everyone remembers, but also many others, like Henry’s frantic, paranoid day of running around between making dinner, dealing drugs and trying to get away from an helicopter that seems to be following him!
The cast is awesome, led by Ray Liotta in the lead. As Henry Hill, he’s cool and fun, but he can be brutal and scary, too. You’ll know what I mean when you see the scene with his wife’s neighbor. Another great thing is his overwhelming enthusiasm, as in the shower scene. I also love Robert De Niro as Jimmy, he’s such a brilliant actor. Even though he doesn’t have the lead (like in 1995’s similarly themed Mob epic “Casino”), he still offers a memorable performance. Joe Pesci won an Oscar for his interpretation of Tommy, and he deserved it. He’s funny and scary at the same time. There’s many other well-known faces in smaller roles, notably Samuel L. Jackson, Mike Starr, Illeana Douglas, Frank Vincent (who gets beat up again by Joe Pesci, like in “Raging Bull”), and even Scorsese’s mom!
All in all, “Goodfellas” is a riveting masterpiece that’s pure enjoyment from start to end.