Top 100 Movie Review: #94 – GoodFellas (1990)

“Do I Amuse You?”

Yes you do Joe Pesci! Along with the rest of this crime film’s cast of characters.

Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Paul Sorvino, and Joe Pesci.

American Film Institutes Ranking: #94/100
Awards: Nominated for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Actor and Actress with Joe Pesci winning Best Actor.
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

Finally, a contemporary movie to review! I actually know some of these guys.

GoodFellas is a great crime film with plenty of gore, curse words and crude behavior. The long scope of its timeline allows you to  dive deep into the intricacies of being involved in the mob, following Henry Hill from an outsider admirer, to being one of its main players, to the ultimate down fall.

The arc is bittersweet, almost feeling sorry for the unfortunate endings of the depraved characters you somehow become attached to.

[Plot/Spoilers] Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) is a poor kid who becomes interested in the crime network in his neighborhood. Wanting to get some respect, he offers his services to the mob, and ends up working for Jimmy the Gent (Robert De Niro). Eventually Henry gets busted for his illicit activity, but proving that he is a reliable associate that doesn’t rat out his friends during trial., Henry begins his ascent through the mob hierarchy.

Along the way, Henry gets married to Karen Friedman (played by Lorraine Brocco), someone who originally was repulsed by his illegal activity but then flips and becomes enamored with the perks of being a mobster. What happens next is the start of a downward spiral as Henry, Jimmy and Karen all begin to create more problems for themselves than they can handle.

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By far the most complete and interesting character: Henry Hill.

Henry’s character is what really drives the bus. Sure, the psychopathic Joe Pesci provides most of the entertainment, but Henry actually has some conflicted, interesting growth. It was easy to cheer him, the boy with a bad father using the mob to make some doe, and early on his crimes aren’t repulsive. But, Henry changes as the film continues, become more and more debased.

There are two big transformations for him in the movie. The first is when he moves from being a humble young thief to an entitled mobster. It happens so slowly that it took me a while before I realized I needed to lose my normalizing behavior for his actions. The second is when he becomes so rattled by anxiety and paranoia from drugs/stress  that he is no longer effective at what he does. This complete unwinding of Henry is equally as unsettling as we almost begin to pity him again, lamenting the loss of someone who made it to the top and begins their descent to rock bottom — even though we are talking about a criminal. 

The movie’s soundtrack is strong with all important film moments being bolstered with a significant period piece that not only puts you in the appropriate time in history but speaks volumes about what is happening during the scene.

Goodfellas is a great film, combining a solid story, interesting characters, and the ever interesting topic of mob life. Get pulled in by the antics of Tommy Devito, stay for the transformation of Henry Hill.

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