There are a lot of gangster movies that come and go. Each have their own style. There’s the operatic feel of The Godfather which tells us the story in a classic and subtle way, but like one of our favorite bad guys from The Professional said, “it does tend to get a little fucking boring.” Then you’ve got the rock n roll that is Scarface and the smooth jazz of Carlito’s Way. Goodfellas falls into a hybrid of Sinatra and punk. You’ve got the glamorization of the life of being a gangster and the fast downfall of being on drugs. Scorsese captures all of that in one movie.
Goodfellas starts out with Henry Hill loving the life of being a kid growing up with the gangsters in his neighborhood. He and his best friends Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy (Robert DeNiro) get into gangster shit and work for the main man Paulie (Paul Sorvino). They get into the gangster life and when work is done they get all nicely dressed up and have a drink with their friends. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Yes, the gangster life is nice in Scorsese movies but what goes up must always come down. The second half of the movie deals with Henry getting in trouble with the law, marital problems and even a substance abuse problem with selling and snorting cocaine. This is where the life gets ugly. Gone are the nice suits and the friends who usually have your back, some of those friends even try to lead you into a store where a couple of guys are waiting to kill you. Not very glamorous.
This is what makes Goodfellas so unique: it has you fall in love with a lifestyle that you know is wrong and it actually starts making you root for the “bad guys.” The Godfather did try to do that by making Michael Corleone a sympathetic character you can root for who is only doing things to keep his family afloat, whereas Goodfellas’ Henry Hill is only here to have some fun with what he has access to. Yes, he cares about his family but he’s also here to get that money. Who can’t relate to that?
Now the principle actors in the movie are at the top of their game. Ray Liotta as Henry is really damn good as is DeNiro and Pesci (who won an Oscar for his performance, you should hear what he said when he got the award on YouTube). Lorraine Bracco is also great as Henry’s wife and goes from innocent to pointing a gun at Henry when he’s waking up because of his cheating ways. Everyone in the movie is really damn good. Even Samuel L. Jackson has a cameo in the movie.
Martin Scorsese loves to stick with the same style he’s been working with for years. He has that red tint that always pops up in his bar scenes and the sound track fades out like a Dr Dre album where once one song ends it goes right into another like they are all connected. The best one has to go to the song Layla (the piano song) that plays over a montage of people that were “whacked.”
There’s always been talk of which movie is the best gangster movie of all time and a lot of them are very, very good. Lots of people say The Godfather is the best and a lot say Goodfellas. Between the two, Goodfellas gets a lot done with a lot more story in less time than Godfather. What say you?