Why I should have seen it already:
Joe Pesci won an Oscar. Also: GoodFeathers.
Now That I Have:
The film begins with Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) driving a car. Then they remember there’s a dude in the trunk they should kill. Tommy goes crazy on him with a kitchen knife and Conway shoots the dude. He’s dead.
The movie then decides to tell you about how Henry grew up. But don’t worry, that dead guy will be waiting for us later on. He ain’t going no where.
Young Henry (Christopher Serrone) was allowed into the local group of wiseguys at an early age. There he meets a young Tommy DeVito (Joe D’Onofrio, the adorable baby Pesci look-alike) and Jimmy. From Jimmy and the rest of the men he learns the ins and outs of the trade and falls in love with the life. He also becomes enamored with the mafia’s simple solution to all of life’s problems: Hit stuff and yell. For example, when his school sends a letter to his parents saying he hasn’t attended class in months, Henry gets whipped by his dad. The mafia isn’t willing to let Henry get grounded again. So they hit stuff and yell! Stuff: the mail man. Yell: “Don’t bring Henry’s parents any more letters from the school!” It’s never a problem again. Life is great!
After growing up and changing actors Henry falls in love and marries Karen (Lorraine Bracco). At which point the job of narrating switches from him to her. She explains how she too falls in love with the lifestyle and learns to be proud of her criminal husband for providing in his own way.
Life is great! Then Henry starts sleeping around. Karen points a gun in his face. He hits things and yells. Problem solved! Life is great!
Henry continues to sleep around.
At one point Henry helps score a large amount of money during a job. So he rises even higher in the ranks alongside his friends Jimmy and Tommy. Jimmy continues to be smart and in charge. Tommy continues to be crazy and the worst friend. After Tommy is insulted by a made-man, he and Jimmy kill the dude in front of Henry. So the three of them put him in their trunk to bury upstate. Only later to hear him banging around in the back during the drive there.
So the movie remembers to finish the story it was telling earlier and they kill and bury the guy. Life is great!
After a big job, Jimmy starts to grow suspicious of the competence of his partners and has everyone killed besides Henry and Tommy. They are the bestest of buds. Plus they now have tons and tons of money.
Then Henry winds up in jail. While there he does two things. 1.) Make spaghetti, which the movie explains in great detail. 2.) Sell drugs. Back at home Karen is barely able to pay the bills. Life is great!
Once he’s out of jail Henry and Jimmy decide to go into their own drug business behind the backs of the mafia. Which is a no-no on account of how much the mafia will shoot you in the head for going behind their backs.
For instance, they tell Tommy they’re throwing a party for him. When Tommy enters the room he doesn’t see a single colored streamer and knows he’s been duped! They shoot him in the head.
With Tommy gone and no longer killing people for no reason, Henry and Jimmy get depressed. Then Henry gets arrested because the government hates drugs. But Henry loves drugs! They butt heads on this issue. Then the government wins because it has a helicopter (Nuts!).
Henry comes back from jail this second time extremely broke. He decides the smart thing to do is go into witness protection and testify against all his friends who just gave him some money. They all go to jail and Henry goes into the suburbs to live out the rest of his life. But you could argue he has it worse than the friends he betrayed because the spaghetti there is really bad.
You could argue that, and Henry does.
Something about Goodfellas feels hollow. When I was watching it the movie seemed more concerned with getting to a select few scenes than it did with telling a complete story. For instance the famous “What do you mean I’m funny?” scene between Pesci and Liotta is great out of context, but it sort of comes from no where in the film. There’s no reason for that scene to happen other than the fact it’s a pretty cool scene.
Martin Scorsese has done better directing than this as well. Goodfellas is filled with long, single shot scenes of a camera moving and showing people’s faces. Sometimes the camera is introducing us to people. Sometimes its just panning across a collection of dumb heads. This technique comes close to being comical the fourth time you’re treated to a bunch of characters with identical expressions.
Despite a less than stellar script and direction, Ray Liotta handles his role as the film’s protagonist nicely. Though my favorite part of the movie was when his character was young and learning the criminal trade, when Liotta took over he made Henry someone knowable. Liotta gives Henry a fake, bellowing laugh which he fills conversations with. It’s a phony laugh which tells almost all you need to know about Henry.
Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro aren’t doing anything we haven’t seen them do before, but dang if they aren’t great at it. Pesci’s Tommy is a character you hate to love to hate. While De Niro could make Tommy feel dangerous and cool if he was wearing a clown suit.
Lorraine Bracco is stuck with a crummy role, but she still was half of my favorite scene of the movie. The scene I’m speaking of is where she is pointing a gun at an awakened Henry after learning of his affairs. You know Henry isn’t going to die, but she’s crackling with enough emotion you find yourself second guessing this simple fact.
The plot of Goodfellas was frustrating to me. Most movies about criminals usually end with them becoming too cocky, making simple mistakes, or letting ego and paranoia get in the way of their success. This one is obnoxiously no different. Early on Henry explains to Karen no one goes to jail if you follow the rules. Then he starts breaking the rules! Then other gangsters start breaking the rules! Then they even start breaking the rules they set about breaking the first rules!
With the easy to follow trail of rule debris its no wonder they all get caught or shot.
Finally, when the movie ends with Henry living a quiet life, you can’t help but wish it was another character that made it out okay instead. After the drugs and affairs and betrayal of all his friends, he’s not very likable. But I suppose he was never supposed to be to begin with.
Even if he was the dude who looked mad whenever Tommy killed someone for no reason. Even if he tried to talk Jimmy out of whacking all his partners after the big score. He let it all happen. He was content with continuing to let it happen.
I think I’m coming to terms with the fact that I like new Martin Scorsese films better than old Martin Scorsese films. I’m sort dreading seeing Taxi Driver now. Also! I’m coming to terms with the fact that Ray Liotta gives every character he plays something special. He’s a pretty cool actor.