Goodfellas is the final recommendation from the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book following my screening of The Godfather.
Here’s the thing, the gangster genre has never been my favourite, or even high on my list of films I enjoy. But, I remember reading the original non-fiction book written by Nicholas Pileggi back when it came out in the mid-80s. In fact, I vividly remember sprawling on one of the beds in my room (there were two twins) reading about Henry Hill.
I think what drew me to it was the television show of the same name (Wiseguy), and I liked the idea that karma and comeuppance could actually occur in the real world.
The film adaptation by Scorsese has the powerhouse triple punch of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Ray Liotta as we join characters they portray, making their way in the criminal world.
And like most gangster films, there are a number of tragic ends for the characters involved. In this case, a large portion of them are based on real people. Driven by greed, manipulated by the drugs they take, and victims and deliverers of violence, these characters give us a terrifying look at what really goes on in that world.
Scorsese masterfully shot this film, including a famous steadicam shot that has been mimicked and paid homage to over the years, and has made sure to make an engaging film. His choice of leads allows the audience in, as people like these actors.
We follow Liotta’s Henry Hill as he and Tommy (Pesci) and Jimmy (De Niro) make names for themselves, fall victim to their own greed, and prove that no promise, no vow of brotherhood will hold in a realm where no one can be trusted.
With a great soundtrack that helps to identify decades, the story moves through the latter half of the twentieth century, the world progresses, while things tremble and collapse for our anti-heroes.
Pesci, who went home with a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, brings a dark edge to his character, proving that Tommy is an unhinged psychopath that his friends couldn’t even keep in check. Both Henry and Jimmy, being of Irish birth could never be ‘made men’ and that keeps them on the outside of a family that will never completely accept them.
It’s a fractured family that is torn apart even easier than the familial facades each character builds for themselves to make them appear normal.
It’s an engrossing tale, and proves that Scorsese is the master of the modern gangster film. Crafting a story that enraptures, and horrifies, as you realise that their world exists next to ours, in our neighbourhoods, cities, and institutions. And as long as selfish ideals like greed continue to drive mortals, how can we ever leave these types of people behind? Or truly fight them?
Goodfellas is a sharp, perfectly paced mob movie, and it works on all counts. Stunning, violent, and exceptional.