Classic Movie Thursdays: Goodfellas Review

So I watched Goodfellas…

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This is a film that I’ve been meaning to watch for a long time. As with many classics, its presence in pop-culture references is unavoidable. I’m also a huge fan of gangster movies because sometimes it’s fun to root for the bad guy.

Okay, basic plot: From the time he was a child, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) has dreamt of being a gangster. He begins as a low-level associate and eventually works his way to being a major player in his city’s crime dealings. Along the way he meets Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), fellow gansters who become Henry’s associates and help him pull of a number of heists and hustles. As time goes by, Henry delves deeper and deeper into the criminal fraternity and soon realises that the higher you fly, the greater your potential fall.

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With the exception of The Departed, I think this may be my favourite Martin Scorsese film. Scorsese is a master of telling stories with explicit and gratuitous candor. He holds nothing back. He fully immerses you in the brutality and insanity of the story being told. The beginning of this movie amazed me. Within five minutes, we’re shown this brutal murder. Throughout this film there’s moments of wonderful violence and before you begin thinking I’m a sadist, this violence is necessary to cement the authenticity of the film’s story. These aren’t nice men looking to start charities; they’re criminals who make their living off the pain of others. Every beating, every shooting solidifies this and helps turn these characters from mere words on a script to tangible figures who you can connect with.

Now I’ve painted these characters as violent, despicable men (who they are) but they are incredibly affable and charming characters. Ray Liotta is the true star of this film. Stealing scenes from the legendary Robert De NIro is no simple feat but Liotta manages to do it every single time. Liotta creates an extremely accessible character whose success you become immediately invested in. Now Liotta is fantastic but De Niro is no slouch either. De Niro has appeared in multiple films as a gangster and it’s a role he could perform in his sleep. He has this wonderful swagger and slick demeanour that is wonderful to behold.

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Joe Pesci truly surprised me with the level of his acting in this film. Prior to watching this film and Raging Bull, i had only seen Pesci in comedic roles where he perpetually stars as a bumbling idiot, films such as Home Alone, Lethal Weapon 3 & 4, Gone Fishin’. So I’ve always pictured him as solely a comedic actor. Then last year I watched Raging Bull for the first time and seeing him in Goodfellas has completely changed my perception of him. I was even shocked to learn that he won an Oscar for his performance in this film. He’s wonderful at portraying a brash, fast-talking, foul-mouthed hothead but he also adds a steeliness to his performance in this film that sets it apart from his previous work.

The thing I love most about Martin Scorsese films is probably the thing I hate most. He has this great need to display as much detail and display as much of the character’s journey as possible. Now this is great because you can fully appreciate the development of a character. In this particular film, you’re able to experience the rise, plateau and fall of Henry Hill. Unfortunately, the downside to this hyper inclusion of detail is that it leads to a film with a torturous runtime. There are multiple scenes where you’re left wondering why exactly you’re seeing this? It feels like you’re watching an extended cut of a film filled with deleted scenes. By the time the final twenty minutes of the film come along, you feel drained and are just hoping, praying even, that the film ends soon. Scorsese is a fantastic director – one of the best to ever do it – and I haven’t seen the majority of his films but those I have seen all have the same problem – they’re too long and don’t maintain your excitement until the very end.

Overall, Goodfellas is a wonderful film. It’s funny, has memorable dialogue, wonderful pieces of violence and is showcased through the eye of a truly talented director. It’s runtime is a bit of a challenge and you’ll need coffee or a Red Bull to make it all the way through but it definitely deserves watching.

4 star

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