PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) admits, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster,” referring to his idolizing the Lucchese crime family gangsters in his blue-collar, predominantly Italian-American neighborhood in East New York, Brooklyn in 1955. Wanting to be part of something significant, Henry quits school and goes to work for them. His Irish-American father, knowing the true nature of the Mafia, tries to stop Henry after learning of his truancy, but the gangsters threaten the local postal carrier with dire consequences should he deliver any more letters from the school to Henry’s house. Henry is able to make a living for himself, and learns the two most important lessons in life: “Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut,” the advice given to him after being acquitted of criminal charges early in his career.
Henry is taken under the wing of the local mob capo, Paul “Paulie” Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and his associates, the lethally paranoid Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro), who loves hijacking trucks, and the psychotic Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), an aggressive armed robber with a hair-trigger temper. In late 1967 they commit the Air France Robbery, marking Henry’s debut into the big time. Enjoying the perks of their criminal life, they spend most of their nights at the Copacabana with countless women. Henry meets and later marries Karen (Lorraine Bracco), a Jewish girl from the Five Towns. Karen is initially troubled by Henry’s criminal activities, but is soon seduced by his glamorous lifestyle. When a neighbor assaults her for refusing his advances, Henry pistol-whips him in front of her. She feels aroused by the act, especially when Henry gives her the gun and tells her to hide it.
On June 11, 1970, Tommy (with Jimmy’s help) brutally beats and kills Billy Batts (Frank Vincent), a mobster with the Gambino crime family, for insulting him about being a shoeshine boy in his younger days. However, Batts was a made man, meaning that he could not be touched without the consent of his Gambino family bosses. Realizing that this was an offense that could get them all killed, Jimmy, Henry, and Tommy need to cover up the murder. They transport the body in the trunk of Henry’s car and bury it upstate. Six months later Jimmy learns that the burial site will be developed, forcing them to exhume the decomposing corpse and move it.
Henry begins to see a mistress named Janice Rossi (Gina Mastrogiacomo), setting her up in an apartment. When Karen finds out, she goes to Janice’s apartment building to confront her, but is not let in past the front door. She then confronts Henry, points a revolver at his face, and threatens to kill both of them, demanding to know if he loves Janice. Karen cannot bring herself to kill him and an enraged Henry threatens Karen with the gun and says he has bigger concerns, like being murdered on the streets. Henry goes to live in the apartment with Janice. Paulie soon directs him to return to Karen after completing a job for him; Henry and Jimmy are sent to collect from an indebted gambler in Florida, which they succeed at after beating him. However most of the crew are arrested after being turned in by the gambler’s sister, a typist for the FBI.
In prison, Henry sells drugs to support his family on the outside. Soon after he is released in 1978, the crew commits the infamous Lufthansa heist at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Henry further establishes himself in the drug trade after seeing its high potential for profit, and convinces Tommy and Jimmy to join him. This is despite Paulie’s warning him to not deal in drugs. Things turn sour when the participants in the Lufthansa robbery ignore Jimmy’s command to not immediately buy expensive things from their share of the stolen money; Jimmy has them all killed one by one. Then Tommy is killed for the murder of Billy Batts, after being fooled into thinking that he is going to be made.
By 1980 Henry is on the cusp of making a big deal with his drug associates in Pittsburgh. A nervous wreck from his cocaine usage and insomnia, he runs around trying his best to get things organized. However, this does not stop him from being caught by narcotics agents and sent to jail. On his release Karen tells him that she flushed his hidden drugs – $60,000 worth of cocaine – down the toilet to prevent the FBI agents from finding it during their raid. Henry and his family are now virtually penniless. Paulie feels Henry betrayed him by dealing in drugs. He gives Henry $3,200 but breaks all association with him. Henry realizes he, himself is to be hit when Jimmy asks him to perform a hit in Florida. Henry decides to enroll in the Witness Protection Program to protect himself and his family. Forced out of his gangster life, he now has to face living in the real world: “I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook”.
Titles explain that Henry was subsequently arrested on drug charges in Seattle, Washington but has been clean since 1987. Paul Cicero died in Fort Worth Federal Prison of respiratory illness in 1988 at 73. Jimmy, as of 1990, was serving a 20-year-to-life sentence in a New York State prison
When I was growing up, I watched Animaniacs every day. One of my favorite segments was the Goodfeathers, which was obviously based on this film. It may be hard to believe, but this is my first time seeing this flick. Now that I have, I bet that if I were to go back and watch those old episodes, some of the jokes and references would make much more sense.
So, it appears that Goodfellas is based on a true story. I did not know that. Obviously, the names have been changed to create “characters”, but what they did is still the same.
The plot of this film is pretty much the life of one Henry Hill and his life with the Mafia, for lack of a better term. Hill encounters a slew of colorful characters throughout the film, including his two best friends, Tommy and Jimmy (who could not be more opposite of each other). As the film progresses, Henry gets sent to prison and gets into drug trafficking which leads to a pivotal choice at film’s end.
Initially, I had avoided this film because I thought it was just another heavy drama, but it turns out that this film was actually quite interesting, despite its lengthy runtime (2hr 26 min).
The pacing of the film is just what it needs. They don’t spend too much time on any one aspect of their lives, and things keep moving forward until, before you know it, the film is over, and you’re wishing for more.
I would have liked for there to have been some more gunplay, rather than just random shootings, but that could just be my obsession with westerns clouding my brain and wanting it to happen in every movie I watch these days.
Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci have great chemistry together. De Niro and Pesci’s characters are polar opposites of each other and Liotta is the happy medium between them. All 3 give great performances.
Paul Sorvino is the consummate mob boss. As I was watching him, I couldn’t help but think they based Fat Tony from The Simpsons partially on him. I could be wrong, though.
Lorraine Bracco was quite the looker back in the day…and still is. She also had some serious acting chops to go with those looks. I wish there could have been more of her, but hey, beggars can’t be choosy, right?
Let the debate begin. Which is the better crime family movie…Goodfellas or The Godfather (you can substitute parts II or III, if you prefer). For me, The Godfather is the better picture, but Goodfellas is more entertaining. That’s not a knock against either picture, just a statement of my opinion.
Should you watch this film? Well, of course! You are sure to enjoy the ongoing escapades of these characters and find yourself wondering hos much of this actually happened and how much was made up. This a definitely a must see before you die film!
5 out of 5 stars