By Isaac Mathewson
Written and directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco
Martin Scorsese has been known throughout the film world for his depictions of brutal and often bloody violence as well as social outcasts who want to make something of themselves even if they have to resort to crime. One of the most famous examples of these films comes from what has often been revered as one of the most influential mob movies alongside The Godfather.
Goodfellas, based on the book Wise Guys by Nicholas Pilleggi, tells the autobiographical story of Henry Hill (Liotta) and his rise and fall from grace within the mob. Robert De Niro plays his boss and best friend Jimmy “The Gent” Conway, Joe Pesci plays the aggressive Tommy DeVito, and Lorraine Bracco is Henry’s wife Karen. The first half of the film, leading up to the Billy Batts (played by Frank Vincent) murder, shows the good aspects of being in the mob and the second half after the murder shows the consequences of living a life committed to crime.
The film, like many of Scorsese’s movies, works like a documentary. It shows the life of Hill, from his eyes, from when he was a kid dreaming of a life of crime to when he is a coke addicted adult who struggles to live day by day to support his family. Scorsese does this in a way to help us understand and even sympathize with the main character.
One of the most famous aspects of this film is the filmmaking. Every shot and camera angle is absolutely stunning, especially in scenes where it shows Hill walking through a building such as a night club with Karen by his side. You get the sense that you have been transported to this time period and that you are there with the characters.
This film is also notable for its depictions of violence. From the opening scene that depicts the Billy Batts murder, you just know that this is a very different film than anything ever done before. The violence is not only very bloody but it is also very brutal. You can feel it every time someone is shot, stabbed, beaten, or strangled. This film really brought violence in gangster films to a whole new level and Scorsese would upgrade the violence in his movies further with Casino and The Departed.
The actors all fit their roles, but the one actor who stands out above all of them is Joe Pesci. His performance, which won him an Academy Award, is well known among gangster film fans all over the world. Although he is only 5’4 and stocky, he has a very violent temper and will kill anyone in cold blood if he feels insulted. Even though he is one of the protagonists, there’s no telling when he will get angry and suddenly turn violent. The most notable example is when he asks Hill, threateningly, how he finds him funny while they’re talking at a night club. It’s interesting how someone so violent and short tempered can be so close to his mother.
Many fans of this film have shown disappointment over the years since its release that it did not receive the Oscar attention it deserved the year that Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves was released. While that movie is no doubt beautiful and is too a landmark in cinema history, I would be lying if I didn’t say that this film really was truly 1990’s best picture. It is not only a landmark for mob movies, but for all films in general and to this day many filmmakers find inspiration in this film. It is one of the best mob movies of all time, as well as one of Scorsese’s greatest achievements.