Goodfellas, directed by the now master director Martin Scorsese, is a mess of a gangster film, following the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill and his friends, played by American-film gangster icons Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. Henry Hill is played with nuance and panic by Ray Liotta. Joe Pesci is a side-man in at least every American gangster film, and is usually the ignorant one: that is certainly true here, as he plays cowboy Tommy DeVito. And Robert DeNiro need not be built-up; he is a legend and plays James Conway, the keen-observer and conniver in GoodFellas.
The structure of GoodFellas is what makes it the original masterpiece that it is: It’s a whistle-blowing riot, while also a serious study in mob dynamics, and like the Godfather, it never lashes out into the view of a police-man or a morally-slanted person; not even Karen, Henry’s Jewish-born sweetheart, has anything to say about issues of morality. Paul Cicero, the main Italian organizer and early-recruiter of Henry, a fatherly image, holds the same beliefs as The Godfather. He wants no drugs in his business. Illegitimacy is synonymous with that stuff. And Henry Hill rebels against this belief, while still trying to remain on good terms with Pauly, eating and making the grade-A Italian food that puts all American’s to shame; “Make sure he doesn’t stop stirring the tomato-sauce!”
The characters are all actors who’ve appeared in a long-line of American mob movies, but here their names are engraved in legend. When I think of Joe Pesci, I think of Tommy DeVito. When I think of Robert DeNiro, okay I think of many characters with his name, but I definitely think of Jimmy Conway. And that goes for Henry Liotta too, who displays a huge range of acting ability as Henry Hill.
When the mobsters go to jail, they run it. They use voice-over to proudly explain this, going on to explain the excellent dinners being created: they never explain how they are allowed such prestige, rather that is meant for our own assumption. It’s through this that Scorsese creates a looking-glass of the inferred, of the secret and the symbolic.
The only thing I arguably don’t like in “Goodfellas” is the end-scene in the court room, where Henry Hill jumps off the stand and looks directly into the camera’s eye, explaining in a regretful sort of way his resignation from the mob. It’s like an anti-nicotine commercial, an ‘unpaid’ advocate against smoking, and I just feel it sheds away the cinematic confine of the entire film, and of film in general. But despite this minor thing, “Goodfellas” is one of my favorite, if not my favorite, gangster films of all time.