Some films instantly become classics because of how iconic their characters, dialogue and scenes in general are. Goodfellas begins with an often quoted and hugely recognised opening line and then continues to impress throughout with a movie full of great moments, brilliant dialogue and a story that doesn’t let you go until the movies final moments.
It’s a testament to Martin Scorsese that he creates a gangster movie that feels so real, so authentic and actually draws you in, creating a world that is appealing and in some parts looks fun and exciting. It’s the perfect blend of great dialogue, amazingly realised scenes and the casting of the central three, all of which bring their best to the movie.
Ray Liotta obviously has the most to do, playing the film’s narrator, Henry Hill. This movie is probably his best, showcasing his talents as the wide-eyed rookie in the gangster underworld, slowly being transformed into one of the Goodfellas, corrupted by the money, the glamour and other addictions along the way. It’s a perfect acting performance.
It is outdone by Joe Pesci though, again, in his best performance. The unhinged, often terrifying Tommy DeVito is Joe Pesci at his best. Calm, quirky and charming in one moment and then angry, loud and abrasive in another. Its Joe Pesci that gives the movie its edge and most of its famous scenes, lines and moments, none more so than the infamous “funny” scene.
Goodfellas is also unusual in that it offers a very subdued, quite reserved performance from Robert De Niro. It is what the film requires but in a movie about gangsters, he is the one that is the calmer, more level-headed, at least for most of the movie. It’s still a great performance and the film is great because the chemistry between the three is fantastic.
The story itself is a classic rise and fall of a gangster but because it builds the characters so well, it feels like a fresh approach to a well-known story. There is very little completely new here but it’s delivered in a sharp, quick and often funny way, making the more dramatic, violent moments so much more graphic and jarring.
What Scorsese delivers is arguably his best gangster movie amongst so many other classics. Casino is great but these characters are more well-rounded and developed, The Departed is fantastic but Goodfellas tells a truer, more realistic gangster story.
It’s also that underpinning element of truth that makes Goodfellas so much more interesting. The idea that these events could and probably did happen, even with the obvious elements of exaggeration, make the movie much more shocking and appealing in equal measure.
Overall, Goodfellas is Martin Scorsese at his gangster movie best. A brilliant story, built upon iconic scenes, delivered by perfectly cast characters. Liotta and Pesci have never been better, the latter delivering a performance that stays with you after the credits have rolled.
Rating – 5!
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)