I think the reason that Goodfellas is (probably) my favorite gangster movie is because it does the best job of depicting the extreme bundle of paradoxes that the gangster arc is all about: decadence married with violence, respect married with danger, protection married with paranoia, fraternity married with backstabbing, romance married with disdain. It’s the highest highs and the lowest lows, and Scorsese really captures it with his unmatched artistic touch.
Every component of its craft is phenomenal. This is two and a half hours of sustained brilliance, spanning 30+ years, like a great epic novel come to life. Just when you think you know exactly what kind of movie it is, the next episode is something slightly different, while all still fitting the requisite gangster rise-fall arc. (The notable exception being that Henry Hill doesn’t get the romantic “made it, ma!” blaze-of-glory death that many of his fictional counterparts do. He’s stuck being a “schnook” — the mirror of his early obsession of glamour.)
The acting is amazing, top to bottom. Joe Pesci is terrifying as a psychotic hitman who hates having his balls busted; it’s not hard to see why he won the Oscar. De Niro is maybe even better, but only gets a few scenes to really flex his chops. Ray Liotta is very good as the star, too, though I found myself wanting an extra level from him as I was watching this time.
I’m going to cut myself off here, because this is the type of movie it’s easy to ramble about every great thing: The long takes that capture the wise guys’ total control of the space around them; the tone-setting and evocative music selections; the moment-to-moment pacing via brilliant editing (especially Hill’s drug-addled paranoid episode in the final half hour); the amazing period and setting details; the captivating details of the logistics of criminal life; the gut-wrenching abruptness of violence, etc. etc. etc.
- Review Project: 2009 Top 100
Masterpiece: Tour De Good (8/8)
Note: This review was originally published elsewhere. Please excuse brevity or inconsistencies in style. If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or contact me.