Robert De Niro
Set within the crime world of New York, Goodfellas’ narrator is Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), who in the first line states he “always wanted to be a gangster.” It was better than being president. And less corrupt. Goodfellas serves as a tribute of sorts to the glory days. All of the glamorization comes in the first part of the film, when Henry’s starting out, racking up girlfriends and money like he knows the fun will end eventually. And it does. By the third act, the thrill is gone and so too are many of the supporting characters.
Much of the film’s dimension comes from these such characters: Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro), who serves as a mentor and teaches him that you should never rat on your friends; Tommy DeVito (Best Supporting Actor winner Joe Pesci), a weaselly sparkplug whose mouth is somehow faster than as his trigger; boss Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), who says so much in so few movements; and Henry’s wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco), who stands by her man even when the feds come for the cocaine.
Based Nicholas Pileggi’s 1986 book Wiseguy, which details Hill’s life, Goodfellas is a tour de force of brilliance. Penned by Pileggi and Scorsese, it’s smart and inventive in the way it lets its characters both tell jokes and pose threats. Photographed by Michael Ballhaus, it’s a slick presentation that immerses the viewer into this world. Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker, it’s a rapid and observant look at the blood and beauty of New York crime. Directed by Scorsese, it’s perhaps the quintessential movie about the mob.
It’s not a leap to say this. Or to call the picture one of the finest rags-to-riches stories ever put to film. Nor is it to call Goodfellas one of the greatest films of all-time, the modern crime story to measure all others by.
Cast and Crew Commentary: Director Martin Scorsese, actors Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, and Frank Vincent, co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, and Thelma Schoonmaker participate in this track. Recorded separately, the contributors discuss just about every aspect of Goodfellas that a fan would want covered, making it well worth a listen.
Cop and Crook Commentary: Henry Hill and former FBI Agent Edward McDonald sit down together to offer an entirely different commentary, with the duo discussing the uncinematic aspect of the story and reminiscing along with the film.
Getting Made (29:36): This look at Goodfellas features behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with many cast and crew members, including Scorsese, Liotta, Pesci, Schoonmaker, and more. Unfortunately, many details from the cast and crew commentary are covered here, so viewers may only want to play one or the other.
Made Men: The Goodfellas Legacy (13:33): This piece gathers a number of notable fans, including Frank Darabont, Jon Favreau and Richard Linklater, to share their love for Goodfellas and talk about its legacy.
Paper is Cheaper Than Film (4:27) offers a sketch-to-screen comparison of a handful of scenes.
The Workaday Gangster (7:58): Hill and others discuss the accuracy of Goodfellas and the allure of the mob.