Goodfellas is Marty Scorsese’s answer to the Godfather trilogy. Set in the backdrop of New York city, the movie covers the teenage and adulthood years of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), a notorious gangster who grew up alongside the mob. During his climb up the ranks he meets Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), who mentor and work alongside him to make a living in the most ruthless ways possible; robbery and murder. Though Henry Hill initially enjoys his life of luxury and respect, his lifestyle slowly unravels due to hubris and corruption.
This movie is a classic mob/crime film. It is a classic because it brings fresh breath to the traditional Greek tragedy; the downfall of an ambitious male character due to his pride. The movie is also great because it is grounded in reality. What you see on the screen are adaptations of what actually happened in real life, it is frightening yet exciting from start to finish.
‘Goodfellas’ also features three brilliant lead performances from Liotta, De Niro and Pesci. These actors have contributed greatly to the renaissance of the crime genre because of their performances in this film in particular. Ray Liotta plays a irish-italian immigrant who is fascinated by the life of a gangster. In fact he’d rather be a gangster than be the president of the United States. His character is really well written. We (as an audience) get to see how he got exposed and sucked into this lifestyle from the very beginning during his teenage years. There are actually two actors who play this character, one who plays Henry Hill when he was a teenager and the other when he was an adult (this was played by Ray Liotta). The transformation of Henry Hill’s persona from his teenage to adult years is believable only because of how well he was played during both of these stages in his life. In contrast Joe Pesci plays a short tempered Italian gangster who dreams of being recognized and knighted into a prestigious brotherhood of gangsters. He is a loose cannon who does some crazy things on screen. I felt Robert De Niro was sort of in between Pesci’s and Liotta’s character. He had already achieved the lifestyle that Liotta’s character dreamed of, but, like Pesci’s character, was also unpredictable at times.
Another great thing about this movie is its production value. The use of voiceovers brings a feeling of rawness into the film. We really get to know more about events that occur from the perspective of the individual who lived through them because of this. The way this film is shot is also very ‘up close and personal’ if you know what I mean. Violence and gore are gloried and the death of a person on screen is certainly not to be taken as sorrowful. It is almost as if the film is trying to say that the person(s) died because they chose this life; they brought death upon themselves the minute they were hailed a gangster.
The only negative I have about ‘Goodfellas’ is that I felt it rushed during its third act. It also concludes quite abruptly and asks more questions about the lifestyle of Henry Hill than it answers. Despite this, ‘Goodfellas’ is like an eyeglass into the lifestyle of an Irish-Italian Gangster from the 50s to the 80s. It is one for the classics due to its memorable characters and supreme production value.