"An Unforgettable Classic..."
My good friend Eric recently reached out to me to congratulate me on the Film Critics Ticket. He also asked if I would write a review for Goodfellas as it is his favorite film so as a special request from him, I am indeed writing one.
Hailed as one of the greatest films of all time, Goodfellas continues to dangle like a pocket watch in the faces of people to remind them that Martin Scorsese is one of those rare creative geniuses. Goodfellas is one of many tales of life in the Mafia. This particular tale is narrated unapologetically by the Irish Italian Henry Hills (Ray Liotta) who grew up intoxicated by the Mafia lifestyle he would so often watch. From the clubs to the money, the fancy cars, the women and of course how others saw them. This was the life he grew up wanting for himself and that’s the life he went out and got. Through James Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy Devito, (Joe Pesci) Henry climbs the ropes of the Mafia and gets accepted into this illegal social circle. Along the way, he marries Karen, (Lorraine Bracco) a Jewish woman who like her husband gets caught up in the Mafia lifestyle and eventually sees it as a form of normalcy. Of course, nothing stays hidden forever and the consequences of the characters actions eventually catch up with them. The pace of Goodfellas is essentially the buildup to these consequences and then how they are individually dealt with.
All four performances are unforgettable in their own way. Liotta knocks it out of the park and breaks all boundaries as he portrays how far Henry is willing to go and what he’ll do to get there. He’s not altogether like those he works with but there’s a certain rawness to Henry that Liotta brings to light as though he’s slowly removing the glass from a bloody wound. One can tell he used every bit of caution he has to ensure Henry was portrayed exactly as he did.
Bracco's performance seems to be the most educational out of the four as her performance portrays the Mafia in a way the others don’t. Ultimately, the Mafia is a predator. Those who join it aren't always those who grow up in it but around it. The Mafia tries to seduce its victims by portraying themselves as powerful people you don’t want to mess with. Outsiders see this and they want a piece of the action. Karen doesn't learn about her mob wife position overnight but once she does, she practically wraps it around her like a fur coat. She now has a new identity and any possible threat to that identity will throw her over the edge.
Pesci’s Oscar-winning performance is like a wine stain in a luxury white carpet you can’t get out. His impulsive ways are often portrayed as anger but at the end of the day, he’s a coward who thrives in making obnoxious scenes and humiliating others. He doesn't have the necessary brain cells to conduct himself like a reasonable human being. As a character, I found him extremely annoying but extremely entertaining. Sometimes, these characters end up being the most memorable as years later Pesci’s Tommy Devito is still the cinematic icon he became in 1990. Despite everything he does in Goodfellas, I never felt afraid of him. I just pitied him and really enjoyed him.
Robert De Niro’s James Conway on the other hand, now that is a fish you want to swim far away from. He’s one of those characters that will scare you not just with words and actions but also with normal looks. The next time you see him in the film after learning what he’s capable of, you bow down to him out of fear. He’s a rare vulture you give your share of the sky to because it’s easier than putting him in the position of having to fly over and take it. He seems to be the most experienced with the Mafia and is therefore grounded in ways the other three aren't. He knows everything about everything. De Niro portrays Conway with his inner passion, he brings out the truth in people. He can’t be fooled.
Scorsese’s direction is masterful and exotic because he gave his actors lots of creative freedom. I learned there were lots of lines that were not in the script. He wanted everything to come naturally so if something felt right to say, he would allow it to be said. These directors are the best kind because they understand filmmaking is a team effort and Scorsese leads Goodfellas with a true team spirit.
Overall, Goodfellas is unique oxygen in which every time you breathe it, you are reminded why this film is a classic that’s been treasured for over almost 30 years. Like all classics, anytime's a good time to watch it again.