Golden Oldies: Goodfellas (1990)

Muslim Taseer looks back on the ultimate wise-guy gangster hit, 30 years after its release.

Muslim Taseer
19th February 2020

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”.

Those are the opening lines of 1990’s Goodfellas, the holy grail of mob movies. Martin Scorsese's 2.5-hour epic based on the Nicholas Pileggi Book “Wiseguys” is in my opinion up there as one of the best films ever made.  The star-studded cast brings their A-Game, The film is chock full of unforgettable scenes, the cinematography is masterpiece level and there’s almost nothing about the film that could've been done better. 

The movie follows Henry Hill’s rise and fall in the Lucchesi crime family, from his early childhood involvement with Paul Cicero to his eventual betrayal and departure of the life. It’s an adrenaline-filled story full of twists and turns, but the real shining star is the performances.

Ray Liotta plays Henry Hill, a coke-addicted mobster who realizes just how in over his head he is. Joe Pesci plays Tommy DeSimone, a short, ill-tempered psychopath who loses his mind at the drop of a hat, and Robert De Niro plays Jimmy “The Gent” Conway, a cold, calculating killer who has absolutely no qualms with murdering every single one of his friends. The movie has Henry Hill sandwiched between these two maniacs, leading to extremely tense moments, Anyone who’s seen the film will remember being on the edge of their seat during the “funny how?” scene, and being completely and utterly sketched out during the helicopter sequence, feeling exactly what Henry Hill must have been feeling. 

Let’s obviously also not forget Lorraine Braco’s amazing performance as Karen Hill, another pivotal character. Scorsese’s beautiful talent for using music in his movies to build and release tension shines through in Goodfellas, with some of the greatest uses of music by him being in this film. Who can forget the juxtaposition of Donovan’s “Atlantis”, a calm and beautiful melody with the violent and brutal beating of Billy Batts? 

All in all, Goodfellas is the absolute holy grail of gangster films, and we will never see anything even close to as good ever again. 

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