Goodfellas

*****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

"This is Scorsese at the top of his game."

Despite claiming in 1986 that he had no intentions of ever making another mob movie, Martin Scorsese luckily changed his mind when he read Nicholas Pileggi's non-fictional book Wise Guys on the set of Color Of Money. And thank the stars he did, for Goodfellas is an unforgettably brilliant tour de force, oozing with a magnetic, visceral energy - stopping it mid-viewing is nigh on impossible. Indeed, the fact that it ranks alongside The Godfather (or the Godfather: Part II depending on your inclination) as the most frequently cited 'best gangster movie ever' gives you an idea of just how good it is.

Fulfilling his childhood dream, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) becomes a member of the New York mafia. However, after years at the top of his game with hothead buddy Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), legendary gangster Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro) and Jewish wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco), Henry's world starts to crumble around him.

Copy picture

Inspired by New Wave movies from the Sixties onwards, this is Scorsese at the top of his game, blending endlessly quotable dialogue (the result of 12 script drafts and structured improvisation) with an operatic feel and constant flourishes of innovative camerawork, such as a striking steadicam trip through a nightclub's kitchens, devised due to constraints. In addition, as we've come to expect from Scorsese, the time-relevant soundtrack enhances the action immeasurably, fluctuating from old-school crooners Dean Martin and Tony Bennett to classic rockers such as Derek & The Dominoes and The Rolling Stones.

Its portrayal of mob life is flawless. Painting a much more seedy and realistically off-putting picture than that shown in the glamourised grandeur of Coppola's Corleone classic, Scorsese crafts the tale as something so true to the actual events that the real life Henry Hill hails it as "95 to 98 per cent accurate" (adding that he was "scared shitless every day"). Though it spans more than three decades, there's still an intimacy and attention to small details, such as advice on how to properly slice garlic.

As for the cast, though Bobby's sixth collaboration with Scorsese is another that bears fruit and Liotta gives a career-defining turn in the central role, it's Pesci's performance as loose-cannon shoe-shiner Tommy that unquestionably leaves the strongest mark. The entire ensemble doesn't put a foot wrong, from Paul Sorvino's 'decent' gangster Paulie to Bracco's unstable wife Karen. Plus there's a nice cameo from Marty's late-mother Catherine as Tommy's mum, who likes to paint opposite-facing dogs. Mean Streets might be his most seminal picture but Goodfellas is Scorsese's best. Adding his once-a-decade masterpiece for the Nineties (the Seventies had Taxi Driver, the Eighties Raging Bull), this is a movie of the highest order.

Reviewed on: 31 Aug 2011
Share this with others on...
Goodfellas packshot
Biopic of mafiosi Henry Hill and his rise and fall through the mob.
Amazon link

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese

Starring: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Tony Darrow, Mike Starr, Frank Vincent, Chuck Low, Frank DiLeo, Henny Youngman, Gina Mastrogiacomo, Catherine Scorsese, Charles Scorsese

Year: 1990

Runtime: 146 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


Search database: