Gangster films are a hallmark of American cinema as of late. Not that they’re all that great, but they always tell captivating stories of the downward spiral into the dark, depths of crime. They are, at the very least, a good time at the movies. Nobody does the genre justice quite like Martin Scorsese, though. When it comes to the gangster film, he has the formula for a perfect blend of drama, suspense, and fast-paced comedy that never goes wrong. Whether it’s The Departed, The Wolf of Wall Street, or Gangs of New York, whenever you see Scorsese is doing another film on the crime world, you’re guaranteed a great film. 1990’s Goodfellas was the start of this formula/trend with his films, and is easily the best of the bunch. Based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi (who also wrote the screenplay), Goodfellas tells the multi-year spanning career of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he descends into the world of crime at a very young age and ascends the gang hierarchy, along with his two friends James Conway (Robert De Niro) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci). As Henry climbs the crime pyramid to the top, he becomes unaware of all the damage he causes to himself and the others around him, which eventually starts to knock him off from the top as Henry continues a constant power struggle.
At a running time of over two and a half hours, Goodfellas is easily the most swiftly paced film, combining a phenomenally edited film that still reigns supreme as my personal favorite editing of any film. It honestly doesn’t even feel like the length, never do you slump in your chair, wondering when this will end. Goodfellas has you in its grasp until the very end. Along with the fantastic editing, the insanely good performances by Liotta, De Niro and Pesci really elevate this film. Martin Scorsese is a director who really gives so much care and nuance to his character. Scorsese just knows how to direct a conversation, with some of the best scenes involving tension filled cuts back to back between characters as they sit at a dinner table. If anyone else filmed these scenes, they would never be half as captivating. With a blend of dark as hell humor, drama, action and suspense, Goodfellas cements itself in film history as one of the best films ever made, and sitting comfortably on the gangster genre pedestal with the Godfather series.
dir. Martin Scorsese
Screens Monday, 11/7, 7:00 PM @ Coolidge Corner Theatre
Part of the ongoing series: Big Screen Classics