Special Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino
Director: Martin Scorsese
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 146 Minutes
Release Date: August 17, 2004

“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.”

Film ****

When I first saw GoodFellas, my life was changed forever, and my love for movies had grown bigger.

To this day, no other film, say for maybe Pulp Fiction, has dazzled me and struck me with a sheer level of awe the way Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece has. The impact was there from the moment I first saw it, and although I have seen many terrific films in the past few years, I still refer to this film as one of the all time greatest examples of pure brilliant filmmaking at its possible highest.

If I’m to ever reference a single film which executes every single and possible aspect of what makes a movie a great movie, you can guarantee that I will look to this film fast as one can blink. Everything from directing to storytelling to fully developed characters to the limits of cinematic violence are each displayed in the most sense assaulting fashion. It goes without saying that no other filmmaker could’ve pulled off the task of making such a film than Martin Scorsese.

Of course, it helped that every scene documented in the film is fact based. Scorsese collaborated with writer Nicholas Pileggi, adapting from his non-fiction book Wise Guy, and the result is a film that accomplishes something of a unique task. Although some sections of the story are given touches of fiction, the entire film plays like a documentary.

At the center of the story is Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), whose fascination with the gangster underworld led him into the business before he was of legal age or even able to drive a car. The opening of the film briefly chronicles young Henry’s involvement with the local mafia hoods who operated right across the street from his family’s apartment in Brooklyn. Henry’s fascination with the lifestyle was for numerous reasons; gangsters got all the girls, they had all the money, drove the nicest cars, never got hassled by the cops, and partied whenever they wanted.

Before long, young Henry has gotten in good with the nearby mob crew headed up by Paul “Paulie” Cicero (Paul Sorvino), and secretly ditches school to become a full time employee. He makes a good amount of cash for simply parking cars for the very people he idolizes. In addition, he’s protected at any costs, as illustrated when Paulie’s guys physically threaten a mail carrier after delivering a letter from the school concerning Henry’s continuing absence.

As years progress, Henry becomes one of the top enforcers in Paulie’s crew. Working alongside fellow crew members Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), a longtime thief and Tommy De Vito (Joe Pesci, in a very deserving Oscar winning performance), a hothead with a quick temper, Henry helps in making huge loads of cash for the organization. The money mostly comes by way of frequent trips to rob arriving bags of cash at the local airport, as well as destroying any possessed piece of property in order to get quick insurance money.

In the midst of Henry helping the organization find new ventures, i.e. the restraunt business, Henry ends up doing the one thing he didn’t plan for…falling in love. He begins a harmless romance with Karen (Lorraine Bracco), and before long the two are married in a fairy tale-like ceremony. Although Karen is suspicious, and then questioning, of what it is Henry actually does for a living, she doesn’t let the notion of criminality bother her at all.

It seems that Henry has it all. With a loving wife, a family, and a nice level of income which seems endless, Henry’s drive for more seems to increase even more. Before long, he, along with Jimmy and Tommy engage in an drug dealing distribution outside the zone of the mob, since it’s pretty much forbidden in the organization. The three also become involved in the offing of a high profile gangster, and even end up doing a brief stint in prison following a collection attempt gone bad.

Each portion of the film contains its own riveting moment, but for me, the strongest segment in the film is the last thirty minutes of the film. What’s most amazing about this point in the film is that you’ve just been spiraled and blown away by the past two hours of mesmerizing storytelling. What’s even more amazing is the notion that by the end of the two hours, a major plot surprise is thrown in your face, and the following sequence comes out of left field and knocks you to the floor.

At this point of the film, the movie goes from being a gangster movie to an all out drug movie. It may seem like a risky shift in gears, but Scorsese made the movie even greater because of it. The sequence in question has Henry, completely coked out of his mind, having to do a day’s worth of running around before engaging in a major drug sell in the evening. With each errand he makes, he spots a helicopter in the sky that seems to being tracking his every movie. Is he being watched or he just flat out paranoid? With the astonishing mixing together of classic rock music (a pivotal trademark of Scorsese’s), this sequence is without a doubt one of the greatest moments captured on film, in my opinion.

The acting in GoodFellas is not to be forgotten, especially on the part of Ray Liotta in his true breakout role. Liotta, something of an unknown at the time, is a remarkable presence on the screen, injecting the right level of intensity and authenticity to the part of Henry. And although this is one of  Robert De Niro’s more subtle roles, he manages to strike the perfect impact as the reckless Jimmy. And as for Joe Pesci, the performance speaks for itself. Many fans of the movie still think the film belongs to Pesci, and they’re much right for thinking so.

GoodFellas, aside from being perhaps my favorite film of all time, remains Martin Scorsese’s unsurpassable masterpiece. Although future brilliant films such as Casino and Gangs of New York have come extremely close to accomplishing the impossible, Scorsese’s initial foray into the lifestyle of the gangster underworld is still the one film in the director’s astonishing career that tops them all. I also am not afraid to say that, for my money, it’s an inch or two superior to The Godfather, and is the single best gangster film of all time.

Video ****

With this Special Edition re-issue, the folks at Warner should be thoroughly congratulated for two specific tasks; giving the video the appropriate anamorphic makeover, and presenting the film in its entirety as opposed to the dreaded flipper presentation on the previous disc. The new disc is absolutely stunning to look at. Right from scene one, the video presentation consists of a vibrant picture with crisp imagery, stunning atmosphere and a most strong level of image detail. In addition, colors are stunning, and not a single picture flaw finds its way onto the screen. A magnificent video job, as well as one of the best re-issues in recent memory.

Audio ****

The 5.1 mix is a remarkably stunning and downright perfect match to the awesome picture quality. The dynamic range is felt in just about every moment of the film’s presentation. Dialogue is incredibly clear, the frequent outburst of gunfire is nothing short of jolting, and the music in the movie has never sounded more powerful and distinct. In other words, this is a sound performance for the history books!

Features ****

Warner has thoughtfully given this film a much needed 2 disc Special Edition makeover that is sure to delight all the fans who have waited for the day of this release.

Disc 1 includes two commentary tracks; the first is with cast and crew members, including Martin Scorsese, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Vincent, Co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, Producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, Editor Thelma Schoomaker. The second commentary is with the real Henry Hill and FBI agent Edward McDonald.

Disc 2 includes three all new documentaries. The first, “Getting it Made”, chronicles the general making of the film, “The Workaday Gangster” tells of the real Henry Hill’s dealings in the mob, and “The GoodFellas Legacy” is a reflective piece where various directors comment on how and why the film remains more influential than ever. Lastly, there is a storyboard featurette titled “Paper is Cheaper Than Film”, and a trailer.


GoodFellas remains an astounding masterpiece of both contemporary cinema and of true life reflected through film. It’s perhaps the most definitive film of the gangster movie genre, and a pure illustration of why Martin Scorsese is the brilliant filmmaker he is.

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