Film Review: Martin Scorsese, “Goodfellas” (1990)

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster…

It’s difficult to find a person today who hasn’t seen or been in someway influenced by something from Scorsese’s catalogue of work, be that his short film ‘The Big Shave’ which first gained him recognition for his talents, or his later work with Steve Buscemi on Boardwalk Empire, everybody has some connection with his work. For me it is without a doubt his collaboration with actor Robert De Niro that makes him stand out most. From the likes of ‘Taxi Driver’ and ‘Raging Bull’ to ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Casino’, some of my favourite films of all time have came out of their collaborations. Today I’m here to discuss what is possibly his most ambitious project to date; ‘Goodfellas’.


With a superstar cast made up of the immense talents of Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Lorraine Bracco, it’s not hard to see what made this film such a success. This is not just “another gangster movie” – the film which explores criminal life and organised crime like no other film has before, is regarded by film critics everywhere as one of the best depictions of gangster life, and is often placed up alongside the likes of The Godfather and The Sopranos. Remarkably the film which follows Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) in his journey from childhood ambitions of being a made man, to rising through the ranks and  becoming a real life ‘Wiseguy’ and eventually being placed into witness protection, is actually based on the true story of Hill written about in the biography “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi (who also co-wrote the screenplay alongside Scorsese).

This darkly humerous feature depicts the mob in a gritty and unglamorous way that appears very true to life. This memoir of life in the Mafia is narrated by Hill (Liotta) who’s childhood dreams were always to become a Mafioso, and it covers three decades of his life in the mafia, up until he turned Government witness and was put into protection after his confessions resulted in dozens of other New York mobsters being imprisoned. The life Hill had always wanted was what he got, it was years before his somewhat romanticised ideal of what being in the Mafia was, eventually soured and things started to go downhill for him, hence this film covering both the rise and fall of the mob.

Scorsese’s brilliant storytelling and directing throughout the film can be partly attributed to his own experiences of being brought up in New York, witness to some of the mafia on goings in Little Italy, there is most notably homage paid to such memories in the opening scene of the film in which Hill as a youngster is viewing the mobsters flashing their cash from an upstairs window. Everything from the music Scorsese expertly chose to be a counterpoint to the drama on screen, to the ‘walls are closing in’ feeling present towards the end of the picture are all important factors as to why this film can’t help but leave a lasting imprint on the viewer. Just as Karen (Bracco) in little time learned to understand and appreciate the ‘code’ of the Mafia, she soon knew not to ask questions about Henry’s work, myself as a viewer soon also came to understand Hill’s feelings and understand the consequences of betraying the Mafia code – banishment into a place where nobody knew your name, walking into a restaurant and having a table literally placed in front of you to ensure you had a front row seat for the entertainment was certainly a thing of the past. This was a consequence of betrayal; the ultimate betrayal. It was either this, or death. The thing I didn’t expect to understand was that these gangsters who turned to the government, they actually felt guilty. Not for all of the lives they’d ruined, not for all of the bad they did. They felt guilty for betraying the code, and the other made men. They felt guilt because they wanted to go back to that life, and for the viewers, the film made them feel the same way. This is what makes the film so great. It gets into your head, it changes your mind; makes you able to feel empathy for these criminals.

9 out of 10!


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