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Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco
GoodFellas ranked # 94 on the American Film Institute's Top 100 American Films list.
Goodfellas (also spelled GoodFellas) is a 1990 film directed by Martin Scorsese, based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, the true story of mob rat Henry Hill.
The film stars Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, Robert De Niro as Jimmy Conway, Joe Pesci, who won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the irascible Tommy DeVito, Lorraine Bracco as Hill's wife, Karen, and Paul Sorvino as Paulie Cicero.
The film originated with New York crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi's book "Wiseguy", which Martin Scorsese read before its publication. According to Pileggi, Scorsese cold-called the writer and told him "I've been waiting for this book my entire life." To which Pileggi replied "I've been waiting for this phone call my entire life." Scorsese and Pileggi collaborated on the screenplay, although much of the film's eventual dialogue would be improvised by the actors.
Scorsese originally intended to direct the film before The Last Temptation of Christ, but when funds materialized to make Last Temptation, Scorsese decided to postpone "Wiseguy", now GoodFellas, due to a recent film and television show of the same name. The film was shot in 1989 in New York City and starred several of Scorsese's regular actors, such as Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci. Scorsese's mother, Catherine, also put in a memorable cameo appearance.
Goodfellas is widely regarded as the first gangster film to show in detail how the "working-class" mafia lived. Unlike The Godfather series, there is no central "don" character. Henry, Jimmy and Tommy are "blue-collar" associates in a larger family, but the film never shows their superiors, Paul Cicero's bosses. (According to Nicholas Pileggi's book, Wiseguy, Cicero was a caporegime for one of the Five Families, the Lucchese Family.)
Additionally, while The Godfather presents the audience with sympathetic characters (particularly Vito Corleone and Kay Adams), the mobsters in Goodfellas are often seen as antisocial, cold-blooded, and violent. Essentially they range from sociopathic to psychopathic (most prominently, Tommy DeVito). The young man who lives across the street from Karen (whom she's "known all her life") attempts to rape her while driving her home, and in response to this Henry walks over to the boy's house and relentlessly pistol-whips him in front of his friends, apparently shattering his nose. This scene shows that even though Henry is normally amiable, friendly, and non-violent, he is not reluctant to use violence when he feels it necessary.
The film's dominant themes include blind ambition, dangerous excess, and watching the company one keeps. The first half of the movie seems to glorify the mob lifestyle, but the second half effectively exposes its less romantic aspects. Henry devolves into a drug-addled mess, the ultra-violent Tommy gets his comeuppance for killing Billy Batts, Jimmy becomes so controlled by greed and paranoia that he turns on his friends, and Paulie can no longer control his now reckless subordinates.
Top 100 Greatest Films - AFI 100 - DVDs
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