Still looking for a film to quaran-stream tonight? Quit looking, because I’ve decided for you. Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster classic Goodfellas is now available to watch on Netflix. Scorsese’s hyper-stylized, raw, yet oddly human lifelong tale of wise guy Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is revered as one of the- if not the– best mob movies ever made to date. And yes, that includes the first two Godfather films.
Goodfellas is based on the book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi, who ended up co-writing the script with Scorsese. Both the book and film document the life of mob associate Henry Hill, who was a long time mobster within the Lucchese crime family. Henry, who was enthralled in the mafia lifestyle from a young age slowly, makes his way up the mysterious and hierarchal chain of La Cosa Nostra (The Mafia). Throughout the film, the highs and pitfalls of this lifestyle are narrated through several characters points of view, but most notably Henry’s and those closest to him.
Movie buffs out there will know Goodfellas is world-renowned director Martin Scorsese’s wheelhouse. Scorsese (unsurprisingly) enlists the help of THE best character actor of all time, his good friend and consigliere Robert De Niro, for the role of fellow wiseguy Jimmy Conway. And who can forget the great Joe Pesci, who delivers one of the most devilish yet hilarious roles in cinema history as hothead and highly insecure Tommy DeVito. In great Scorsese fashion, the violent and unforgiving world of the mafia is revealed through an extremely realistic and, at times, darkly comedic lens.
Going into this film, what more could you ask for? Scorsese is very specific and particular for his portrayals of the mob lifestyle, and this film is no different. Goodfellas has become the gold standard for mob movies in modern cinema. Using his mastery of cinematic techniques and storytelling, the film was nominated for six Academy Awards, with Pesci going on to win Best Supporting Actor. In my mind, there is no better cinema performance than Pesci here commanding the screen as DeVito. He’s an absolute force throughout the story, a legitimate ticking time bomb that you just don’t know when, where and on whom, he will erupt. A very well deserved Oscar and if you think that’s funny, you’ll understand once you watch.
To play our three main wiseguys, Liotta, De Niro, and Pesci all went through extensive research periods for their roles. Though De Niro, and Pesci’s roles were fictionalized, all three of their characters were rooted in truth and accuracy. They talked extensively with the author of “Wiseguys” and were even given information that wasn’t even included in the book to work off of while building their characters. This dedication and want for accuracy gives Goodfellas the rocket fuel it needs. Well that, and a still mouthwatering sauce scene.
Each of these characters are constantly dealing with a power and authority complex of their own throughout the film, both within the mob and with each other. Henry, Jimmy and Tommy are all looking to make their name in the Family and become untouchable, though for Henry that was never possible as he isn’t full Italian blood. The path of a mobster can be a long and grueling one filled with violence, lies and betrayal. It’s a long life in the mob and, though the perks may seem great, there’s always something dark around the corner. The film shows the how ambition for the wrong things can only end badly.
I also want to praise Lorraine Bracco for her portrayal of Henry’s wife Karen. Her character deals mainly with the damage done to the Hill’s home life in light of Henry’s choices and puts on an absolute masterclass performance as the disgruntled wife. It’s a truly believable character that is rooted in emotional pain and desperate for attention. While watching, you can almost see flashes of Margot Robbie’s character in Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Though both characters are based on real people, I would be shocked if inspiration wasn’t pulled from Bracco’s Karen Hill.
Scorsese’s tenacious and meticulous style is not lost in Goodfellas. His creativeness in unraveling a narrative is center stage here and the viewer can truly feel how close to home these stories are to its filmmaker. Iconic sequences like the walk through the Copacabana to “Then He Kissed Me” by the Crystals without a single cut show how confident and comfortable Scorsese is in this world, along with his main character. His camera work and decisions almost lend an insider’s perspective into a life in the mob. These long sequences that dominate the better half of Goodfella’s first act can be representative of the confidence and control over life that Henry has at this time. Henry’s walk across the street to beat up Karen’s neighbor accomplishes this as well. No cuts. As the film goes on, however, we experience shorter sequences that feature many more cuts and hectic camerawork, symbolizing Henry’s spiral out of control.
The importance of this movie to the gangster genre is invaluable. This is a movie that truly deserves all the praise it gets and should have won Best Picture… but took a back seat to Dances With Wolves.
Verdict: 5 out of 5 Stars
Coming up on it’s 30 year anniversary, what better time to press play on Goodfellas for the umpteenth time? Especially if you haven’t seen it in awhile, I couldn’t think of a better watch. I promise you’ll be exhilarated, horrified, and laugh the night away. It’s a true night at the movies…. in the comfort of your own home, of course.