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.”
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.