Classic Movie Review: Goodfellas (1990)

Posted: December 31, 2012 in Drama


Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) was enamored with the mob ever since he was a boy.  He started working for the mob  at a cabstand. while he was still in school.  He was arrested for the first time at 16.  He started running with a crew headed by Paul Cicero.  (Paul Sorvino)  Included in the crew is Tommy Devito (Joe Pesci) and James Conway (Robert DeNiro) Tommy is a temperamental loose cannon, Conway is more controlled, but he’s still a killer.  Everything becomes insular once Hill joins the crew, they only socialize with one another, they can’t trust anyone else.  He meets his wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) on a double date with Tommy.  They are married soon afterwards.  Not so soon after Henry and Karen are married, he starts cheating on his wife with Janice Rossi (Gina Mastrogiancomo)

Hill’s first major job was stealing 420,000 dollars from the cargo area of an Air France flight.  Even though he is starting to score big with this robbery, aspects of his life are falling apart Karen threatens to kill Henry for cheating on him, and one night in a local bar, Tommy kills Billy Batts. (Frank Vincent)  Batts was a made man in the mob, it is a death sentence in mob culture. It is left to Tommy , Henry, and Jimmy to bury Billy Batts  after Tommy stabs Billy because he’s not quite dead in the trunk of Henry’s car.

Because of the craziness going on around him, Paul Cicero tells Henry to take a vacation in Florida, they beat up a man, who won’t pay a debt, and Hill gets caught by the police and sentenced to 10 years in prison.  Prison life is not exactly hard, the guards are paid off and Karen smuggles in food.  Henry Hill served 4 years of a 10 year sentence.

Undaunted by his jailtime, Henry starts to plan another airplane heist, this time of a Lufthansa airline, there was almost 5 million dollars in cash and almost a million dollars in jewels were stolen again from the cargo area of a Lufthansa flight, and Jimmy controlled who got the money, and he didn’t like how the members of the crew were spending the money, so he started killing members of his own crew.  Unsatisfied with his take from the robbery, Henry starts mixing and distributing cocaine he gets from Pittsburgh, he is eventually arrested for drug trafficking.  His life, which he thought would be so glamorous, was turning into a mess, several arrests, several mistresses, and a cocaine addiction.  He was now a junkie, and soon to die, because the mob doesn’t like addicts on their payroll.  What is next for Henry Hill.

What makes this movie a classic?  It’s very simple, whereas the Godfather glamourized the mob mentality, this movie presented the hard reality of mob life.  The mob isn’t glamorous, it’s a dangerous cocktail of drugs, paranoia, and guns.  This movie visualizes the change in Henry Hill quite starkly, in the beginning  of the movie, Hill is a suave, debonair, lady-killer.  As the movie continues, the viewer can see him losing control of his life, because of his unwavering greed.  At the end of the movie, Hill is a sweaty, paranoid mess, the paranoia exacerbated by the constant cocaine use.  This is more of a cautionary tale than a movie, and the moral is, if you think you want to enter the mob life, you will either end up dead or a junkie.

The acting is unbelievable.  Ray Liotta is magnetic, the viewer is naturally drawn to him, he is handsome well dressed and smooth, then he gets in too deep, and plays the role of addict to perfection. Joe Pesci is both funny and scary as Tommy Devito, he is a psychopath, who could be laughing one minute, and cold bloodedly stabbing or shooting someone the next.  This movie made Joe Pesci’s career, as well it should..  Robert DeNiro is no less a killer, but he keeps his anger  under wraps for the most part, so DeNiro gives a controlled performance, but the explosion is just under the surface, so don’t cross him. Lorraine Bracco is also amazing, she loves Henry, but she hates his cheating, so she is gentle, and servile one minute and raging at Hill, and his mistresses the next,  a fabulous performance.

The direction is quick and precise, the pacing is brisk.  Hats off to Martin Scorcese for making this movie more than just a mob story, but a human story, about very flawed people.

Goodfellas.  A great movie.


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