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January 15, 2011

Goodfellas (1990)

out of 4 Stars
146 Min
Genre: Crime/Drama/Thriller
Director: Martin Scorsese
Cinematographer: Michael Ballhaus

Stars: Ray Henry Hill
           Robert De Jimmy Conway
   and  Joe Tommy DeVito

Awards: 6 Oscar Nominations
               1 Oscar Win
   Right from the opening scene, we realize that we are witnessing men with no concept of conscience. For Henry Hill (Liotta), the life of a gangster has always appealed to him. Growing up in 1950's East Brooklyn, Henry learned the ropes working at a cab stand across the street from his house; a business overseen by Paul Cicero, the neighborhood leader of the Lucchese crime family. He surrounds himself with powerful friends, master thief Jimmy Conway (De Niro) and quick-tempered psychopath Tommy DeVito (Pesci), and learns the two most valuable lessons in life; never rat out on your friends and always keep your mouth shut.

   By the mid-1960's, Henry is one of the top moneymakers in the family. Everywhere he goes, people respect him and do whatever they can to give him whatever he wants. This is beautifully illustrated by Michael Ballhaus' steadicam camerawork, especially during the the Bamboo Lounge scene, where in one long moving take, weaving effortlessly through the busy establishment, Henry's narration introduces all of his important connections and their ties to the family. This famous scene is later emulated in Paul Thomas Anderson's 1997 Boogie Nights early nightclub scene. Later in the film, Ballhaus further depicts Henry's rising celebrity status by following him as he traverses through the bustling kitchen area of the Copacabana nightclub and makes his way to his ready-made front row table to watch the night's entertainment performance.

   Martin Scorsese emphasizes just how powerful the Lucchese family is by showing how close-knit they are to each other. When times are good, they throw extravagant parties for each other and vacation together in exotic locations. They should tremendous respect and generosity at Henry's wedding, giving him a small fortune. Even in prison, they are afforded luxuries people on the outside can't even afford. But when the times are bad, it's every man for himself.

   Jimmy grows increasingly paranoid about being arrested for his involvement in a major cargo heist when his other collaborators in the plot draw attention to themselves by carelessly spending their spoils. To protect himself, Jimmy executes them one by one in brutal fashion over a period of several weeks.

   Tommy begins to worry those around him as his angry outbursts grow increasingly more violent. This culminates when Tommy cold-heartedly kills "made man" Billy Batts for humiliating him in front of his friends. The only problem is, killing a "made man" without permission from the family is not allowed and if discovered, Tommy will be killed.

   Henry enters the lucrative drug trade against the wishes of Paul and flourishes. His luck runs out eventually and he faces a long prison sentence. Abandoned by Paul for disobeying him and believing that Jimmy plans to execute him, Henry decides to enter a witness protection program and agrees to testify against his former family. Henry later laments the lifestyle he had to give up, seeing himself now as nothing better than a schnook.

   A must-have addition to your movie collection, Goodfellas is one of Martin Scorsese's greatest works to date. Ray Liotta's strong performance really draws you into the gangster lifestyle and Joe Pesci will keep you on your toes wondering what crazy thing he will do next. With all the power and riches available for the taking, wouldn't you want to be a gangster?

Favorite Quotations:

Henry Hill: "Jimmy was the kind of guy that rooted for the bad guys in the movies."

Henry Hill: "Whenever we needed money, we'd rob the airport. To us, it was better than Citibank."

Tommy DeVito: "He said 'No, you're gonna tell me something today, tough guy.' I said, 'All right, I'll tell you something: go fuck your mother.'"

Jimmy Conway: "I'm not mad at you, I'm proud of you. You took your first pinch like a man and you learned the two greatest things in life. Look at me... never rat on your friends and always keep your mouth shut."

Henry Hill: "For us to live any other way was nuts. Uh, to us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work everyday, and worried about their bills, were dead. I mean they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again."