Very few films can boast the level of influence and quality that 1990’s “GoodFellas” can. Martin Scorsese is well known for his crime films, with movies like “The Departed,” “Taxi Driver,” and “Wolf of Wall Street” in his repertoire. While these films are some of the greatest Scorsese has ever directed, none can hold a candle to “GoodFellas.” If you have an interest in crime stories, or films based on true life, then “Goodfellas” should definitely be added to your watchlist.
Starting in the 1950s, “GoodFellas” follows low-level Irish mob associate Henry Hill as he rises through the criminal underworld of 20th century New York. The story encompasses the rise of Henry and his friends, the different eras of the mob, and the eventual downfall that they faced in the 1980’s due to the introduction of the RICO statutes.
Though it follows the life and struggles of well-established criminals, “GoodFellas” never makes an effort to glorify or praise the life that they lived. Characters in the film are depicted as shallow, violent and greedy, much like their real life associates. Each reprehensible action of the characters shows the audience a somewhat accurate representation of the “gangster” myth, and helps the viewer understand why Henry Hill would get involved in the first and his eventual reasons for leaving the criminal life. Very few films can cover the topic of the mafia in a manner that is dignified and still a solid dramatic experience, and yet “GoodFellas” sets the standard.
Outside of the solid directing and sound design of the film, the strongest part of the movie is the performances given by several members of the star-studded cast. Ray Liotta provides an amazing show as Henry Hill, with the audience feeling empathy for Hill as he struggles with criminality and the multitude of issues that it brings. Liotta also perfectly encapsulates the greed and addiction that Hill faced later in his criminal career, with the audience feeling both fear and disappointment in the decisions Hill makes.
There are also two stellar supporting performances by Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro, who play Henry’s allies Tommy and Jimmy, respectively. Both of these characters help the audience realize why Henry became a criminal, as they each play a defining role early in his life. Without these two performances, Liotta’s amazing role as Henry would be lacking essential support. This film is a masterclass in terms of acting.
With so many lackluster crime dramas being released year after year, it’s hard to remember the quality they once had. “GoodFellas” is a window into this quality, as each part of the film helps work together to create a phenomenal movie. Scorsese’s look into the life of a “good fella” is one of the greatest films of the 1990’s, and if you haven’t seen it yet you absolutely should.