Based on the real story of Henry Hill, Goodfellas is Martin Scorsese’s “Should have won the Oscar” work of art.
I mean, really, think about it- I know he was a sentimental favorite, but did he really deserve the Oscar for “The Aviator?” The answer is a resounding “No!” The same goes for his “Gangs of New York,” a sentimental favorite that was well crafted but surely not solid enough to actually earn the Best Director Oscar. Goodfellas , however, is another story. For Goodfellas Scorsese should have blown away that wolf dancing Kevin Costner.
In the movie, Henry (Ray Liotta) main ambition starting from childhood is to become a “wise guy,” a member of the Mafia. He is in no way actually connected to The Family, but he’s single-minded in his vision of a life as a mafioso. The movie is based on the real life story of Hill, told to Nicholas Pileggi while in the Federal Witness Protection Program.
One could easily look over at Francis Ford Coppola and wonder why he wasn’t given a crack at this material, and yet, upon further thought it becomes clear that Scorsese is truly the only director who could possibly direct a film with the authenticity and imagery of “Goodfellas.” Hill’s wife notes in the book based on their lives that she became so accustomed to living the mob life that it became normal to her. She was so deeply integrated into the circle that any other kind of living felt strange to her.
That’s exactly the beauty of Goodfellas. While it is a dramatized account of Henry Hill’s rise into the Mafia ranks, it is executed with such utter research, such devotion to every detail by Scorsese that it at the same time feels like drama, documentary, and biopic blended with a touch of urban poetry. Goodfellas isn’t so much about the events and actions of a mob figure. These things are only the tools that Scorsese uses to create what it truly feels like to be a mob figure.
Scorsese taps not only into the Pileggi book, but also his own life experiences sitting in his home, watching the gangsters across the street. He would sit in is window day after day after day. In some ways, he could do nothing but he could observe everything.
As in every Scorsese film, music is essential to communicating the story and the feelings of the film. Every transition is complete with music that takes the viewers to a new place from Hill’s early experiences to his rise through his ranks and, ultimately, through his own paranoia as the walls began to close in.
Liotta immerses himself in the role of Henry Hill. Henry Hill is genuinely the performance of Liotta’s life, and his Oscar nomination was absolutely deserved as we go with him from strong-willed young man to rising star in the Mafia to fallen star and finally to betrayal. Liotta shines brightly through this wide array of emotions, and his sequences with Lorraine Bracco as his wife are full of passion and loyalty and romance and, yes, more betrayal. Thus, as The Don, Paul Sorvino explodes on the screen alongside Robert DeNiro as Jimmy and Danny Devito as Tommy.
The wonder of Goodfellas is the feeling of regret we feel for Henry Hill, who has been so consumed by life in this Mafia family that when he eventually betrays himself and his family everything he has ever wanted and dreamed of is done. Becoming part of the Federal Witness Protection Program creates an abrupt stop to a life for which he definitely feels guilty, but the guilt is more about his own betrayal than it is any wrongdoing. It is a life he loved living, and there is literally no doubt he would choose to do so again.
If Scorsese dies without finally winning his Oscar for some reason, hopefully he can rest in peace knowing that in his career he has produced movies that challenge, entertain, teach and inform like literally no other director. Goodfellas is an incredible movie from a brilliant director, and the failure of the Academy to see it is a indication only of their poor judgment.
In many aspects, Goodfellas is Henry Hill’s love song for his life in a Mafia family. Like every powerful love anthem, it is one song you will feel long after you have seen the movie.