Goodfellas (1990)
Directed by Martin Scorsese

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) idolized gangsters when he was a child. Having ingratiated himself, while still a boy, with the local don, he began his involvement with the Mafia and, as an adult, came to play various roles in a number of criminal ventures over an extended period of time.

Even if it is never brilliant, and its quality is diminished by the director's insistence upon preaching to the viewer, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas is a well made, powerful film filled with excellent performances.


The movie's narrative is concerned only with the usual intrigues and violent acts common to numerous other gangster films but remains interesting throughout, and its visual style, while not distinctive, is competently realized. Scorsese displays particular skill in the ways he has made use of both narrative and visual devices to give Goodfellas a frenetic, insular quality. He hedges in his characters with the walls they themselves have created so that the viewer is made aware of how narrow their world and their perspectives are and of how they can think of no other manner of living than that of the Mafia.


This sense, and the film's other emotive effects, are considerably enhanced by the skilled performances of the actors, most of whom contribute significantly to the movie's appeal. Joe Pesci's portrayal of a jovial but psychotically violent mobster, for example, is wildly entertaining. He shifts from likeable to disturbing or terrifying with alacrity and believability. Ray Liotta and Robert De Niro also acquit themselves well, although neither truly excels.

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Unfortunately, instead of allowing the viewer to savor his responses to Goodfellas' horrific violence, the debilitating, unreflective perspectives of its characters, and the misery they cause everyone around them, including one another, Scorsese preaches and so detracts from the emotional impact he could have achieved. He cannot resist telling us directly that mobsters are bad persons and that involvement in such a life-style is morally corrupting.


Although it could have been better, Goodfellas is, nevertheless, an interesting and accomplished film.

Review by Keith Allen

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