Martin Scorsese directed “GoodFellas” is a crime drama and true account of gangster Henry Hill and his association with some of New York’s most feared criminals. It is based on the book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi. The film won critical praise and ran well in theaters back in 1990 grossing $46.8 million domestically. It was also nominated for six Academy Awards but only Joe Pesci managed to win Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of the main character Henry Hill’s close friend, Tommy DeVito.
The opening scene shows Henry, and two of his friends Jimmy and Tommy hearing noises coming from the trunk of the car they are going in. After opening the trunk, they realize that the “body” they intended to dump was still alive. Tommy stabs him, and Jimmy shoots him several times to make sure he was dead. The violence sets the mood and the tone for the rest of the movie, and so begins Henry’s narration, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
The audience is transported back to Henry’s childhood. Watching the mobsters operating in his Brooklyn neighborhood from his bedroom window, he is fascinated by their audacious lifestyle. Soon he gets an after-school job at the cab stand where they functioned, and bored by school, he drops out and becomes one of the “goodfellas.”
Henry marries his wife Karen in his early 20s, and we get to see the troubles relationship strained by his lack of commitment as a husband and a father, and his numerous affairs. He is arrested after roughing up a man in Florida and spends six years in prison with several of his mob associates, including their leader Paulie. He begins to deal in drugs to support his family and continues even after his release with Jimmy and Tommy, despite Paulie’s warnings, and is finally apprehended for selling narcotics, and manages to stay out of prison under the Witness Protection Program in exchange for turning in his lifelong friends to the authorities.
Scorsese gives movie watchers an inside look into the dealings, the laughs, the loves, the ups and downs like it could be anyone’s story, but the violence, the brutality lurks just below the surface and so does the very real possibility that they could erupt any moment. The characters belong to a world so different from ours, but instead of presenting caricatures, Scorsese humanizes every one of them, each with his own quirks, making them very believable. Joe Pesci plays the trigger-happy Tommy, who provides comic relief through his good humor, while Robert DeNiro depicts the notorious Jimmy Conway (based on real-life criminal James Burke), a good friend to Henry who is always there for him and his family, but who also intends to have him killed when he senses Henry might cut a deal with the police in exchange for staying out of prison. Paul Sorvino balances Paulie’s fatherly role as head of the gang with the sinister authority that he exudes with great tact.
“GoodFellas” is a wonderful attempt at telling a gripping story that will pull you into New York’s formidable crime syndicate, and into Henry Hill’s life in particular.
A fine blend of great storytelling and direction, this movie gets you hooked from the first scene to the last.
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