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Goodfellas

(Martin Scorsese, USA, 1990)


 


Although fans of the great American director Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets [1973], Raging Bull [1980]) became rather worried about the path his career was taking during the 1980s, this film marked a dazzling return to form.

Based on Nicholas Pileggi's factual novel, it tells the story of small-time gangster ("goodfella") Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) throughout three decades of Mafia operations. In a fast, vivid fashion, the film conveys the texture of the changing times through vibrant details of music, costume and set design.

The crime/gangster genre has always worked a double perspective. On one level it inhabits the grand egos of its unlovely heroes, while on another it traces the treacherous circle of power games that inevitably lead to an underworld apocalypse.

Goodfellas brings this form to new heights. The famous Steadicam shots show us Hill's world from the inside, a fabulous dream palace of money, sex, drugs and power. At the same time, Hill inexorably loses control and his seeming best friends (played brilliantly by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci) are shown as frighteningly inscrutable, death-dealing operators.

Scorsese directs the film as if it were a delirious jazz symphony. Its fragmentation and constant switching of viewpoint are the keys to its extraordinary power.

Undoubtedly the tour de force of this masterpiece is the sequence where Henry simultaneously cooks pasta, manages a drug deal and evades a police helicopter. See if you can count how many rock and pop classics Scorsese uses up in this astoundingly cinematic segment.

MORE Scorsese: The Age of Innocence, The Aviator, The Blues, Cape Fear, Bringing Out the Dead, The King of Comedy, Kundun

© Adrian Martin May 1992


Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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