Ever since I was in 7th grade, I wanted to be a gangster. Mostly because I saw Goodfellas at a sleepover and I thought it was the best movie of my young life. It had everything: danger, violence, a glorified lifestyle filled with women, booze, and the best red sauce you could ever imagine.
It didn't even make prison look so bad.
Sure, maybe you'd get murdered...but at least you had a lot of money when it happened!
Well, today Goodfellas is turning 30, so I thought it was an appropriate time to look back at the Scorsese classic that, despite being robbed at the Academy Awards, still echoes through eternity as one of Scorsese's best movies.
So let's take a look at what makes it so great.
Goodfellas Turns 30 and Still Slaps
As I grew older, I thought my love for Goodfellas would wane, but instead, I grew to appreciate the technical mastery that makes the movie slap. You're watching something that involves everyone working at the top of their game.
The acting here is superb, with even the kids who play Henry and Tommy filling the shoes and not standing in the shadows of the dynamic A-listers who round out the cast.
But none of the actors could have done it without the people who follow...
The movie was based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi, who also wrote the screenplay with Martin Scorsese. One of the most powerful things about the movie is its voiceover. It's dynamic and tells us the story without conflicting with what's on-screen.
It's written in a way that keeps us keyed into the characters and their arcs.
Never overtly, always asking us to measure what we see against what we hear. In this way, we stay inside the story.
Also, this movie covers so much ground. We ease through the decades, maturing our characters but always having the benefit of hindsight.
Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest (if not the greatest) directors of all time. He's always been obsessed with gangsters, but before Goodfellas, he kept us as voyeurs into their lives. In this movie, we are steeped in the world. We understand the nooks and crannies of this world.
You can credit the writing, but at the end of the day, Scorsese is the one taking us through worldbuilding with a director's lens. He's helping compose shots, telling the actors how to be, and giving the audience a taste of a life they supposedly want.
Until it all goes wrong and gets very complicated.
Look, there's a link to the famous shot below, but Goodfellas should be known for more than just one famous shot. It should be known for the sweeping pans, the long tracking shots, and even the dollies that help set the mood, tone, and really give the audience a grip on the story.
The film was shot by Michael Ballhaus who was a frequent Scorsese collaborator and hit the next level here.
Everything you see is kinetic. There's energy and movement. These shots don't get put together on their own, though.
What can we say about Thelma Schoonmaker that hasn't been said before? Maybe nothing. But I'll just reiterate it here. She's amazing and felt like the heartbeat of Goodfellas. The movie lives and breaths by the way she puts together montages, talking scenes, and how she lingers on shots and even boldly freeze frames.
Part of me rejects auteur theory because of how much collaboration goes into making movies. And how much I think these kinds of artists do everything for the picture. Schoonmaker did everything for this movie, giving all her talents to the process and even dedicating her work to her husband who had recently passed away.
What's left is a masterclass in pacing. Edits come quickly or even don't come at all. She knows how to brace an audience, keep them wanting more, and how to get us seamless through almost 3 hours of the story while having it feel like mere minutes.
Goodfellas at 30
What were your first experiences with this movie? Do you think it's Scorsese's best, or do you hate it?
I would love to know your POV, so put it in the comments.
And if you're a gangster, let me know how accurate the depiction of Henry Hill's life feels to you. 'Cause for a kid in 7th grade, it felt like the most real thing I had ever seen. And it made me want to be a gangster.
What's next? What are things Scorsese always puts in his movies?
Martin Scorsese's storied career has tackled some of the biggest questions humans can answer. And he has some themes that keep reoccurring...