Opinion | Bona Fide | “Goodfellas”

A Review of Martin Scorsese’s Masterpiece “Goodfellas”


WARNING: “Goodfellas” (1990) is rated R by the MPAA for sequences of strong violence, drug use, language throughout and some sexuality.

Henry Hill: “[Narrating] As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

My favorite film of all time, Martin Scorsese’s “Goodfellas” is a must-see because of its seamless ability to weave together the element of a non-stop popcorn-flick and a perfectly-executed biopic of real-life mobster Henry Hill.

The film follows the life of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta)  in the ultimate rags-to-riches story documenting his affiliation with the Italian-American Mafia as well as his relationship with mentor Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and partner-in-crime Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci).

Jimmy Conway: “I’m not mad; I’m proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man, and you learn two great things in your life. Look at me. Never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.”

The rags-to-riches story has been a staple in filmmaking since the days of Charlie Chaplin and his film “The Gold Rush” (1925). Scorsese created not only the best rags-to-riches story but one of the best and most entertaining films of all time with “Goodfellas.”

Nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards in 1990, Scorsese’s classic was disappointingly beat out by Kevin Costner’s “Dances With Wolves.” However, “Goodfellas” has a lasting legacy and timelessness that Costner’s film lacked.

At the time, “Dances With Wolves” offered the Academy the chance to redeem itself for their past treatment of Native Americans and disregarded Scorsese’s excessively-violent crime drama.

“Goodfellas” was ahead of its time and revolutionized filmmaking for years to come.

With “Goodfellas,” Scorsese embedded the sequence shot in the Copacabana scene (long shots on film without any breaks in between takes) that–at the time–was the one of the longest shots on film. He influenced modern directors such as Alejandro González Iñárritu (“Birdman,” “The Revenant”).

With killer performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and an especially-deadly performance from Joe Pesci, “Goodfellas” heralds picture-perfect performances all around.

Although Ray Liotta plays the titular character of Henry Hill, “Goodfellas” is Joe Pesci’s swan song. His penultimate performance is so spot on, it’s hard to picture Pesci as anyone else than Tommy DeVito.

Nevertheless, a film’s actors would be nothing without an undeniably strong script and direction, which Scorsese delivers in his strongest project.

The script never lets go of its audience moving at a mile a minute for the entire two-and-a-half-hour runtime.

Being cited by the real Henry Hill as 90-99 percent accurate in context and winning the Academy Award for best supporting actor in 1990, Pesci defined his acting career through Tommy DeVito.

The soundtrack interacts with the scenes as well as the script with complete ease guiding the picture through the themes in song.

For example, when Henry Hill is desperately running through town to move product and guns while his family is at home cooking dinner, Harry Nilsson’s “Jump Into the Fire” plays with ferocious energy and completely sets the mood for the scene.  

“Goodfellas” is the definition of a perfect film.

Every. Single element. In filmmaking. Is mastered. In this masterpiece.

Since I first watched “Goodfellas” about four years ago, it stuck with me without losing its grip. I’d never seen something so full of wit and flair without a single dull moment for my 13-year-old brain. For a year, I would watch it once a month. I still watch the film multiple times a year.

It never loses its place in my heart and soul.

Henry Hill: “[Narrating] For us to live any other way was nuts. Uh, to us, those goody-good people who worked s****y jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean, they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something, we just took it. If anyone complained twice, they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again.”

Scorsese mastered his craft with this seminal masterpiece and ultimately left the 1990 Academy Awards snubbed. Combining a well-written story, beautiful cinematography, revolutionary camera work and A+ performances from every actor, “Goodfellas” perfectly blends popcorn-entertainment with award-winning filmmaking at a level never before seen.

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