By Dan Skip Allen
Martin Scorsese has been known as the gangster film director during his fifty years as a filmmaker. His first gangster film was Mean Streets where he started his long term relationship with collaborator Robert De Niro. As Johnny Boy, De Niro would be the kind of actor Scorsese would create time and again in future films. Goodfellas was littered with these types of wiseguys. They would come quite frequently in other films such as Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed, and most recently The Irishman. Goodfellas, though, would stand out decades later as one of the most groundbreaking achievements in film history and among Scorsese's filmography.
When talking about great films such as Goodfellas one has to point to the things that Scorsese does that are now commonplace in the business of movie-making. One thing that comes to mind that is a terrific achievement is the tracking shot where Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) and Karen (Lorraine Bracco) are walking through the Copacabana nightclub to the music of The Crystals, "And Then He Kissed Me". This was a scene unheard of before but now everybody does this with a crane looking down over the actors. The crane shot was groundbreaking in 1990 when this film came out.
Scorsese always attracts a great cast to work with him. Even his little film's he gets great performers to line up to appear. Goodfellas was no different. Of course, his usual cast of characters would be cast in the starring roles. Such as Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Frank Vincent. The stand out in this great film was Ray Liotta though. He embodied Henry Hill in this film. The scene where he is high on cocaine and he is going back and forth getting the bag of guns and he noticed the helicopter was following him. He was "Shoeless" Joe Jackson in Field of Dreams but Goodfellas was his breakout role — the role he'll be remembered for the rest of his life. Scorsese always can get the most out of his actors.
Scorsese likes to take real events and make them into fantastic films. Goodfellas adapts a very famous heist in history. The Lufthansa Plane heist was a real event that happened. Adapting the book from Nick Pileggi ("Wiseguy") Scorsese brought this story to life. Whereas other gangster films were fictional takes on the life, Goodfellas was ripped right from history. Of course, the names are changed for this film. The real Henry Hill was sent into the witness protection program because he turned state's evidence on his childhood and adult friends. They were like his family, as seen in a prison scene where he helped the don Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) make pasta.
As mentioned earlier De Niro has a great history with Scorsese, but Joe Pesci has a great working relationship with him as well. As Tommy Devito, he gives a great performance and delivers one of the best scenes in film history. When he jokes with Hill and says what's so funny and then shoots Spider played by Michael Imperioli. It's no coincidence that the creators of The Sopranos scooped up a bunch of the cast of Goodfellas for their terrific show on HBO. Bracco is great alongside Liotta as well, getting an Oscar nomination. Pesce was the only win though for the film.
Obviously, The Godfather films are considered the creme de la creme of gangster films. Goodfellas is a top three gangster film though. It has groundbreaking filmmaking by Martin Scorsese, great acting by a stellar cast of actors, and a very well adapted screenplay from Scorsese and Pileggi of a true heist in American history. Thirty years ago this film was considered one of the best of the year. It stands up as one of the best ever and one of Scorsese's best as well. The realistic nature of the story and frantic filmmaking at times make for an exciting and very entertaining film. In another thirty years, people will still be talking about Goodfellas, Scorsese, DeNiro, and Pesci alongside the greatest films, directors, and actors of all time. This genre never gets old for me so I can watch this film over and over again. Goodfellas is as great now as it was then in 1990.
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