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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Goodfellas

Starring: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: R
RunTime: 148 Minutes
Release Date: September 1990
Genres: Crime, Action, Drama, Classic

*Also starring: Garry Pastore, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Tony Darrow, Mike Starr, Frank Vincent

Review by Walter Frith
No Rating Supplied

When the 1990's wrap up at the end of this year, Martin Scorsese's 'GoodFellas' is certain to be in the top 10 of many critic's lists. Being Scorsese's best film, 'GoodFellas' is one of the best mob movies ever. Scorsese's 'Raging Bull' was at the top of many critic's lists as the best film of the 1980's but that film really stood out as being most dazzling when the action was inside the boxing ring. Outside the ring, the film is over rated. There were major script problems in terms of plotting and making anything seem truly outstanding, except Robert De Niro's Oscar winning performance. But 'Raging Bull' was still authentic movie making that re-created an era that is now long gone. 'The Godfather' is still the granddaddy of all gangster films but 'GoodFellas' moves along like a fast paced game of cards and Scorsese leaves you guessing all the way down who has the best hand. Is it Scorsese's frenzied direction? Is it the brilliant, funny, shocking, and mesmerizing script by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi based on the novel 'Wiseguy'? Is it in the performances, including Joe Pesci's Oscar winning role as a sawed off runt who's gun happy tendencies sometimes get the best of him? Actually, it's a combination of all these things including the fact that it's all a true story.

The film benefits tremendously from Ray Liotta's narration as a real life character named Henry Hill. As a boy, he observed the activities of local gangsters while growing up in Brooklyn. He ran illegal errands for them part time and turned it into full time work and gradually rose among their ranks to become a trusted member of the crew and a somewhat right hand man for gangsters like Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro). Liotta's narration as Henry Hill are a series of pride swelling accomplishments. These guys are actually proud of the fact that they steal, kill, and go through life taking anything they want at the expense of others and at one point actually make fun of honest folks who work hard for everything they have.

As the film opens, Henry Hill is a boy whose parents gradually fear he will never amount to anything in life because of his association with gangsters. For the first 10 or fifteen minutes, the story is brilliantly set up with narration from about 1955 to 1963 when Henry Hill becomes a man and the story really picks up steam from there.

Scorsese has always been good at mesmerizing audiences with his style of visual violence and captures it better on film than practically any other director and secretly taps into our dark side and shows us things we don't really want to see, but when we do, we enjoy it strangely enough.

Henry Hill takes a bride named Karen (Lorraine Bracco), and the two of them have a seemingly good life for the first few years of their marriage until Hill starts cheating on her and spending night after night away from home with his friends. Karen is seduced by the high powered world of money and power and gets drawn into helping Henry with his lifestyle, most notably, drugs.

This film was Ray Liotta's break though performance and he deserved an Oscar nomination for it but never received one. Robert De Niro's character is more of a father figure and there is a curious style of detachment in De Niro's performance but who can argue with the fact the Joe Pesci gives the film's most brilliant performance? He combines horrific violence with wise cracks and the most despicable humour and rolls into one neat package and sells foul language better than almost anyone else I've ever seen in a film.

Michael Ballhaus' cinematography is a marvel in itself. Ballhaus does almost everything imaginable with light in this film. He bounces it, bends it, shifts it and Scorsese plunges his camera right into the violent abyss and never makes it seem mindless but yet an important part of the story.

The only portion of the film that could have been trimmed out and left on the cutting room floor is most of the last half hour. The film is somewhat bogged down by Henry Hill's drugged out haze and paranoia that he is being pursued by the law. The film goes on too long in this regard but with so much else it gives us, this seems like such a little thing to point out in light of how quickly the rest of the film moves along.

Copyright 1999 Walter Frith

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