02 May 2010

Review: "Goodfellas"

Goodfellas is a fantastic film from 1990, but it is not Martin Scorsese's masterpiece. Without it we would have never had my personal favourite Scorsese film, Casino (1995), or The Departed (2006), which brought Scorsese the elusive Academy Award for Best Director. Goodfellas is based on the nonfiction book Wiseguy by crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese. The two also adapted another Pileggi's book for the film Casino. It is also Robert De Niro's fifth (of seven, to date) collaboration with the director. The film large cast includes Joe Pesci (Best Supporting Actor winner), Lorraine Bracco (Best Supporting Actress nominee), Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino. At the 1991 Academy Awards the film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Editing. While Roger Ebert may have named Goodfellas one of the most mob films ever and one of the best films of the 1990's, but for me it lacks the intensity and attitude of Casino. I loved the film and the film's narration and it serves as a contemporary companion to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather. Every generation seems to have a fascination with the Mafia and the film certainly served as inspiration for The Sopranos -- even Tommy's (Joe Pesci) relationship with his mother in the film is paralleled by Paulie on television. While maybe a bit too long, Goodfellas is a superbly written and acted film that is full of energy and while I personally do not think it is better than Casino, it is much better than The Departed!

The film transpires over a thirty year period and begins with the film's protagonist, Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), admitting "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." It was 1955 in Brooklyn, and the Irish-American Henry drops out of school to work for the Mafia. He becomes the protege of Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), a captain in the Mafia, and his associates, Jimmy "The Gent" Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci).
Jimmy hijacks trucks while Tommy's aggressive nature leans more toward armed robbery. Henry's first job in the Mafia was the Air France robbery in 1967, which earned the Mafia more than $400 000. While enjoying the perks and nightlife of a criminal, Henry meets Karen (Lorraine Bracco), a woman he eventually marries. It is already a problem that he is not fully Italian, but he must lie to Karen's family and claim to be part Jewish. Karen is assaulted by a neighbour and Henry pistol whips the young man in front of Karen. Instead of being disgusted by his behaviour, Karen is aroused by this act of violence. He soon begins having an affair with Janice (Gina Mastrogiacomo) and became heavily involved in cocaine trafficking, keeping that business separate from his dealings with the Mafia. The film continues by explores the lives of the many men involved, looking at their personal lives and their professional dealings. The film is often violent and, according to Wikipedia, is ninth in a list of films with the most frequent use of the word fuck with 300 occurrences and a rate of 2.06 fucks per minute (and was, at the time of its release, number one).

It is amusing how synchronicity can affect your life. A few weeks ago the television show American Dad! aired an episode that was inspired by the film Sideways (Alexander Payne's fantastic 2004 film), and before watching Goodfellas there was an episode of Community that was heavily influenced by Goodfellas and its use of narration. It is a fantastic film that weaves together a great number of stories. I do not think that the television series The Sopranos or could have succeeded without Goodfellas showing how smoothly such a diverse cast can be incorporated into one film. The film stars two future cast members of The Sopranos, Lorraine Bracco and Michael Imperioli, who thankfully created two characters that are vastly different from their alter egos on television. While Goodfellas is remembered for its excessive violence and language, it remains a necessary piece of film history because Martin Scorsese was able to piece together a fantastic story with exceptional performances and a well-written screenplay. Still, Casino remains my favourite Scorsese film, and I think this is because I saw it during a time when I devoured films and have a great fondness for the films that I watched during that time in my life.

My rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.

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