Details Create Mystique Around ‘Goodfellas’

Classic film still holds up

Many movies have become classics for generations, and movies like Goodfellas hold a special place in many peoples hearts.

Many movies have become classics for generations, and movies like Goodfellas hold a special place in many peoples’ hearts.

“You’re gonna like this guy. He’s alright, he’s a good fella.” Goodfellas is known for being one of the most violent movies ever produced but loved and enjoyed by anyone that is at least 15 minutes into the movie. Martin Scorsese’s depiction of “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi follows the true, gripping tale of Henry Hill, an Irish-Italian-American from Manhattan, and the next 25 years of his life growing to be a well-respected gangster in the Lucchese crime family. 

Ray Liotta portrays Henry, along with his mob partners, Jimmy and Tommy, played by Robert de Niro and Joe Pesci. This crime/drama story terrified audiences everywhere, not in the way a horror film would, but in how accurately depicted the crimes were.

Liotta’s character is complex and emotionally complicated. He is able to play the tough guy persona that comes with being a gangster but can share his rare moments of vulnerability. Meanwhile, de Niro’s character is all intimidation, the guy nobody argues with, what he says goes. Pesci’s persona is represented as the wild one. The one that will shoot someone in the foot for not getting him a drink without thinking about it, while also bringing the comic relief that isn’t expected in such a grim story.  

During Henry’s pursuit to impress his future wife, Karen, played by Lorraine Bracco, Scorsese used a tactic that drew in movie buffs everywhere, the long shot. A single shot without any cuts in the take or changes in filming angles. This very technique has been famously used by directors like Stanley Kubrick in films like The Shining and a Clockwork Orange. But like he did the rest of the movie, Scorsese pulled it off beautifully. Known as “the Copa Shot,” the take is just under three minutes and follows Henry and Karen through the back entrance and kitchen of the Copacabana nightclub. Although Kubrick took a more unsettling approach, Scorsese took a different direction in an almost touching way, illustrating the excitement of new love. Of course, having the song “And Then He Kissed Me” helped set the mood.

When it comes down to good filmmaking, it’s all in the small details. Now, will many find these small details the first time around? Maybe not, but after the 3rd or 4th time watching, some things will either make more sense or give the audience an “Ah-Ha” moment. Like the scene where everyone’s sitting down to dinner in prison and Paulie, the boss, portrayed by Paul Sorvino, is very thinly slicing cloves of garlic with a razor blade. It was a very good system. It makes the scene all the more believable. Or, for those that can read lips, take the scene when Karen and Henry are sitting together in the car, sipping champagne. Though Bracco is doing voiceover, if one looked closely at what they were saying to each other, Henry clearly asks “will you marry me?” showing not only one of those few moments of Hill’s vulnerability but also a rare lighthearted minute that is then followed by Jimmy choking out a cheap wig salesman with a telephone cord.

One of the greatest movies ever produced cannot be called one of the greatest movies ever produced without at least 5 awards. Well, Scorsese’s mob movie met that expectation with 15 awards won between 1990 and 1991. Joe Pesci won an Academy Award for best supporting actor while Scorsese and his crew won several others.

Of course, Goodfellas isn’t the only classic mobster movie. Less than 20 years prior did the original Godfather movie make its way onto the big screen. Often is it questioned whether or not Francis Ford Coppola’s 1972 box office masterpiece paved the way for Goodfellas. Maybe for mobster movies, but certainly not for camera work, screenwriting, casting, and all of the above. But was it the genius work of Coppola and Scorsese in these two classics that paved the way for the HBO TV hit the Sopranos? Casting Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi may not have been a possibility if it weren’t for her 1990 breakout role as Karen Hill. Neither would have been the nameless truck driver whom Henry and Tommy rob, nor Spider, the bartender that had some unfortunate interactions with Tommy.

I’ve watched this movie countless times, each time loving it even more than the last, still on edge during Tommy’s “Funny how?” scene. It became a classic the moment it hit the big screen, and accurately paints the picture of a fairytale with an unhappy ending. Especially as a family of Italian descent, my household can’t help but be glued to the TV whenever it’s on, and unintentionally quote it in our daily lives. Maybe not known as a fun-for-the-whole-family film, it can still bring people together that are fascinated by Joe Pesci’s reaction to being told to go get his shine box.