Montreal Film Journal

GOODFELLAS

Henry Hill always wanted to be a gangster. Wiseguys are not called that for nothing. They're taking chances, making lots of money and living the big life. People respect the Mob, that's not new. Henry doesn't want to be a dumbass loser who works from 9 to 5. He's gonna be one of the guys. He hasn't even finished highschool that he's already working for Paulie, the Godfather of the hood. He starts out parking cars and serving drinks and slowly makes his way up. He befriends with Jimmy Conway, an old pro, and Tommy De Vito, an aggressive son of a bitch. They're happy with their lifestyle. Hill has more money than he can handle, a wife, kids and a girlfriend. But crimes sometimes go wrong, and people go to jail or get killed...

"Goodfellas" is about that, but also much more. It's an epic story filled with events happening over a period of 30 years. The screenplay's based on a Nicholas Pileggi book written after he had talked to real mobsters. It's really interesting. We meet lots of people and there's a whole lotta stuff going on. Every scene is great, whether it's a conversation that leads to a murder or a dinner at Mom's. Martin Scorsese did a great job on the film. His storytelling is impeccable. I like the way Henry Hill's off-screen voice gives us a glimpse of life in the crime business. Scorsese's visual style is dazzling as usual. The cinematography is brilliant and many scenes are riveting. Music is also really well used. I'll never listen to Derek and the Dominos' Layla the same way! There are countless brilliantly crafted sequences. There's the extended Steadycam shot that everyone remembers, but also many others, like Henry's coke-crazed, paranoia-fueled day, as he runs between making dinner, dealing drugs and setting up his crew. The whole film is way exciting, but this part is the most dazzingly fast-paced.

The cast is awesome. Ray Liotta is really cool as Henry Hill. He's cool, he's funny, but he can be brutal and scary too. You'll know what I mean when you see the scene with his wife's neighbor. Another great thing is his overwhelming enthusiasm, as in the shower scene. I also love Robert De Niro, who plays Jimmy. He's such a brilliant actor. Even though he doesn't have the lead (like in 1995's similarly themed Mob epic "Casino"), he still offers a memorable performance. Joe Pesci won an Oscar for his interpretation of Tommy, and he deserved it. He's funny and scary at the same time. Paul Sorvino is excellent in the role of Paulie, the Mob boss. There's many other well known faces in smaller roles, notably Samuel L. Jackson, Frank Vincent (who gets beat up again by Joe Pesci, like in "Raging Bull") and Scorsese's mom. "Goodfellas" is a gripping masterpiece that's pure enjoyment from start to end.