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6. EMPIRE MAGAZINE GREATEST: GoodFellas

November 27, 2018

Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino
Runtime: 145Minutes

 

Original UK Release: 1990

 

★★★★★

 

Unlike its inherent partner, The Godfather, Goodfellas is an almost intrinsic study into the lifestyle of its subject, Henry Hill. A story of smaller scale and world view than that of its sprawling ancestor, this is a vision of the gangster lifestyle that examines with horrifying pragmatism the reality of the world it is depicting with an almost documentarian approach.

 

Given its notoriety of foulmouthed dysphemisms and blood lust, it’s a violent and harsh movie even without housing that high of a body count. Its visceral nastiness in regard to its blunt matter-of-factness is a core factor in Scorsese’s efforts to drag Henry Hill’s (Liotta) semi-fantasy back into reality.

 

There’s also the matter of how much fun the film is to watch. Not that it’s director never questions your sardonic enjoyment of it, Scorsese allows you to catch yourself off guard whenever you begin to find this life as glamorous as Henry Hill wants you to believe.

 

What’s more, Goodfellas has an unforgettable screenplay derived from the incredible rapport that was held by both the writers and the performers in improvised sessions in advance of shooting, giving conversation on-screen a personal and spontaneous sensation of tense friction. Michael Ballhaus’ work as cinematographer gives every scene a dark, grimy yet alluring feel to its smoky world.

 

It features a plethora of phenomenal, career-defining performances from its core cast, Liotta and De Niro have since struggled to escape their genre staple. Lorraine Bracco is a perfect counter to her onscreen partner, although the work done by Joe Pesci as Tommy DeVito is by far and away the film’s wildest card with a darkly comic streak.

 

Matched by a perfect editing structure, great direction and timely yet anachronistic music choices, Goodfellas cultural standing is as firm as its love affair with cinema’s rich history.

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