“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
For the last four decades, Martin Scorsese has made at least one film considered to be the best. In the 1970s it was Taxi Driver. The 1980s gave us Raging Bull. The 2000s had The Departed, which earned Scorsese his only Oscar for Best Director. But the year that should’ve given him his first was in the 1990s with Goodfellas, losing out to Kevin Costner’s epic western Dances with Wolves. And while in retrospect it has become one of the many years in which hindsight has decreed that since Costner has not crafted anything close in quality since, while Scorsese is still the best American director out there, Goodfellas remains as perhaps his finest work.
Adapted from the novel Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the film follows the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta). A part of one of the most violent crews in the Northeast, the film follows his entry and eventual exit from the mob over several decades in the context of his friendship with Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy (Robert De Niro) in the Lucchese crime family.
This is the film where Scorsese became the American master of the crime film, turning the tale of a gangster’s rise (and fall) into one of the few films that could be called the definitive American tragedy. What The Godfather was as the great American romance with La Cosa Nostra, Goodfellas is the exact opposite. This is the grimy side of crime that Francis Ford Coppola made mythic as Scorsese takes the exact opposite approach. These aren’t men with delusions of grandeur; they are scumbags who aren’t above murder and extortion to make a buck.
It’s interesting to compare both main characters of the series with one another. Michael (Al Pacino) was a man of honor who did bad things. Henry Hill just does bad things for the quick buck. And it’s in this comparison that we find that Goodfellas has lost a bit of its luster in the two decades since, despite being one of the greatest films ever made. It’s a bit of a sad masterpiece, so to speak.
For almost all involved it would be the peak of their careers. Liotta never really was better, neither was De Niro or Pesci. But in the years since, the status of the cast has fallen as far as the cast of Godfather rose. De Niro has become a shell of his old self, making fun of his tough guy persona to the point where it has almost become his persona. Pesci is in retirement. Liotta never really became the big star he was poised to, having seemingly peaked with Goodfellas and been relegated to trading on his fame from that film to build a career as a character actor. Scorsese would spend most of the next two decades pandering to the Academy to win the Oscar that Goodfellas was seemingly fated to win him before returning to his roots for the win with the crime thriller The Departed.
Goodfellas remains one of the truly great pieces of American cinema, the epic crime film that every film in the genre has tried to top and hasn’t.
With an upgraded transfer into the Blu-Ray format, Goodfellas has never looked better. In a widescreen format with a Dolby Digital surround, the a/v has been given a substantial upgrade over the previous releases. Scorsese’s crime opus has never looked or sounded better.
The DVD extras from the Two Disc Special Edition are included in their entirety on the first disc.
There are a selected group of Warner Bros. Looney Tunes cartoons featuring gangsters included on the second disc. It also has a documentary on the gangster film called Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film, a two-hour look at the gangster film narrated by Alec Baldwin. Absolutely fascinating, the film follows the origins of the genre from its origins in mimicking the Prohibition era gangsters forward. Taking on the subject in depth, especially its unique role of replacing (and being replaced by) the Western in pop culture as showcases of thieves and cops. It’s interesting to see the conventions of the genre, in full effect now, be developed over the years, as well as how the nature of film-making has changed. A top level feature now would get significantly longer than the 23 days an “A picture” would get then, the documentary mainly focuses on the pre-World War II era of this genre, mainly from the silent era gangster flick Underworld and ending with the classic White Heat (and the influences thereafter).
It’s about time Goodfellas came to Blu-Ray and is worth every penny.
Warner Bros. presents Goodfellas . Directed by Martin Scorsese. Starring Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci. Written by Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi based off the novel “Wiseguy” by Pileggi. Running time: 146 minutes. Rated R. Released on DVD: February 16, 2010. Available at Amazon.com.
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.