Rated R; Directed by Martin Scorsese; Starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco
Our greatest director of the last thirty-five years may see Oscar® luck next year. He is certainly due. Nominated five times for Best Director and winning none of them, Martin Scorsese is earning critical and box office raves for The Departed. With a reputation for interesting and dynamic films, his nominated films include Raging Bull, The Last Temptation of Christ, Goodfellas, The Gangs of New York, and The Aviator. 1990’s Goodfellas remains my favorite.
A movie about gangsters, Goodfellas starts out fun and breezy as we meet young Henry Hill, a kid growing up in Brooklyn who yearns for the gangster life. After all, their life looks like a more fun than his working class parents’ life. As he grows up and his fascination leads to work in the local crime boss’ “family,” the fun and breezy quality of the film shifts into tension-filled overdrive.
Goodfellas packs a wallop. Unforgettable, the film’s scenes play out in nail-biting intensity. Bloody violence is a way of life for these guys and Scorsese shows us the disturbing side of this violence. The Godfather fans who expect smart, lethal mobsters discovered a more brutal view of what it means to work in organized crime.
It certainly helps that Scorsese had such a good cast to tell this story. Ray Liotta gives Henry Hill charm and ambition; Lorraine Bracco, as Karen Hill, is the wife who appreciates her husband’s line of work; Robert De Niro is excellent as the menacing Jimmy Conway; but it is Joe Pesci who creates the most memorable character as Tommy DeVito, a man whose emotions shift in seconds. His “I’m funny how?” scene with Liotta and his scenes with a young waiter are the highlights of a great performance. Pesci deserved and won the Supporting Actor Oscar® (a side note: the waiter is played by Michael Imperioli, who created another memorable gangster role in HBO’s “The Sopranos”).
A smart script by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese allows the story to flow from the late 1950s to the early 80s with Henry and Karen’s narration adding that extra ironic touch to the movie. From the early heady days of power in the mob to the drug-fueled paranoia that Henry experiences later in his career, Scorsese’s sure hand in directing keeps things tensely entertaining.
The 2-disc DVD offers an entertaining making-of documentary, plus audio commentary from some of the cast and director, plus another audio commentary of the real Henry Hill character and the cop that brought him down.
With several of his films ranked as the best films ever made, Martin Scorsese deserves an Academy Award®. He didn’t win with Goodfellas – Kevin Costner won for Dances with Wolves that year – but, if all goes well he may see his luck change. Already nominated for a Golden Globe®, it just may be his turn at Oscar® time.