Top 365 Films – #002 – Goodfellas (1990)

Top 365 Films - Goodfellas - Starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe PesciDIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese

STARRING: Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Frank Vincent, Tony Darrow, Mike Starr, Chuck Low, Frank DiLeo, Johnny Williams, Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Adonis, Catherine Scorsese, Gina Mastrogiacomo, Debi Mazar, Margo Winkler, Welker White, Julie Garfield, Paul Herman, Christopher Serrone, Charles Scorsese, Michael Vivalo, Michael Imperioli, Tony Sirico, Frank Pellegrino, Tony Ellis, Elizabeth Whitcraft, Illeana Douglas, Anthony Powers, Tony Lip, Tobin Bell, Joseph Bono, Kevin Corrigan and Vito Picone

BUDGET: $25m

EARNED (Domestic): $46.8m

AWARDS: Oscar (Best Supporting Actor) and 5 BAFTAs (Best Film, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Editing and Best Costume Design)



Henry Hill and his friends work their way up through the mob hierarchy.


Goodfellas has us follow a trio of mobsters during a few decades in New York, from local boy turned gangster Henry Hill, to the hotheaded Tommy DeVito who becomes his best friend and the guy that puts the two of them together, Jimmy Conway, who runs the biggest hijacking jobs in town.


I know some may consider this blasphemy to have this placed just above the iconic gangster film that is The Godfather, but it comes down to which one I would rewatch more with ease and that is Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas. The first half of the film shows us how the mobster lifestyle is glorified through the eyes of a young Henry Hill and how he yearned to embrace that life and badge of ‘respect’ given to these men in the neighbourhood as he observes the wise guys in the social club across the street in awe, while we see how the woman he marries, Karen, becomes accustomed to the life of a mob wife to the point that she begins to see their values as a normal daily routine, happy enough that her husband would cut a few corners to make extra money. Then comes the second half of the film where Henry gets to see just how crazy the lifestyle becomes as soon as you get pinched and how paranoia sets in as everyone gets older and have no hesitations about killing the man next to them that they’ve known for years just for the matter of thinking that they could turn on you down the line. We witness their rise through the years and gaining power that went unchallenged to their inevitable decline and Scorsese is at his absolute peak here in directing the script he had a hand in along with Nicholas Pileggi, whose book Wiseguy is which the film is based on, creating a world full of swagger and brooding unpredictability as we follow flawed individuals looking to make a name for themselves in the world. There is a few laughs to be had in this film of loyalty and violence, which could turn at the flip of a coin thanks to the iconic character provided in Goodfellas of Tommy DeVito, performed brilliantly by Joe Pesci, as a man completely drunk on the lifestyle and becomes so fearless to how untouchable he is that it leads to violent consequences that effects everyone around him. Robert De Niro is also terrific in the role of Jimmy Conway, a commanding presence who knows that he owns every room that he walks into and while Tommy can theatrically explode at any moment, Jimmy can almost intimidate anyone with just a simple stare alone, and has a no-nonsense approach to keeping himself and his livelihood being threatened. Then there’s Ray Liotta as Henry Hill who gives everything into the role and considering the supporting cast around him, it’s still a little surprising that there’s not as much praise of his performance here compared to the two Scorsese veterans before him, as he’s absolutely terrific in the role, especially in the state of drug-filled paranoia he has in the films final act. Often somewhat gets lost in being mentioned in terms of performances is Lorraine Bracco’s performance as Karen, a woman who becomes seduced/turned on by Henry’s way of life until it consumes her soul and becomes lost in the mobster life, highlighted in the one moment she realises that everything from the people she talks to around her are apart of the mob way of life and there’s no outsider to escape to.


FAVOURITE SCENE: The entering the Copacabana tracking shot, as we see Karen follow Henry to a life that will eventually become apart of her way of life before she even takes a seat at her table.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: ‘For as long as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.’ – Henry Hill

DID YOU KNOW?: According to the real Henry Hill, whose life was the basis for the book and film, Joe Pesci’s portrayal of Tommy DeSimone was 90% to 99% accurate, with one notable exception; the real Tommy DeSimone was a massively built, strapping man. The “you think I’m funny?” scene was based on a story that Joe Pesci acted out for Martin Scorsese. While working in a restaurant as a young man, Pesci once told a mobster that he was funny and the mobster became very angry. Scorsese allowed Pesci and Ray Liotta to improvise the scene. He did not tell the other actors in the scene what would happen because he wanted their genuine surprised reactions. Al Pacino was offered the role of Jimmy Conway but he turned it down due to fears of typecasting. Ironically, that same year Pacino ended up playing an even more stereotyped gangster – Big Boy Caprice in Warren Beatty’s Dick Tracy (1990). He admits he regrets this decision.

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