I really think I watched this movie at the wrong time. Because we are doing this blog alphabetically, we watched Goodfellas not long after seeing The Godfather series. I was blown away by the first two Godfather movies, so any future movie about the mob had a pretty high standard to achieve for me to love it. Unfortunately Goodfellas is just not as good as The Godfather. I really try very hard not to compare movies like that, but I found it very difficult when we literally watched these films within days of each other. I was underwhelmed by Goodfellas. It is a good movie that is really well made, but there just felt like something was missing. A lot of that had to do with the protagonist, Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta. Liotta is no Al Pacino. Most other things about these films are very comparable to each other, but not when it comes to the male leads. Pacino is on another level compared to Liotta, that isn’t to say that Ray Liotta does a bad job, he’s just not Al Pacino. Which really isn’t fair, I know, not many people are.
Goodfellas tells the life story of Henry Hill. Ever since he was a child, he wanted to be a gangster. He gets swept up into the Mafia lifestyle when he is a teenager in the 1950s and eventually starts working for local boss, James Conway (Robert DeNiro) and his right hand man, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci in an Oscar winning role). Hill moves himself up the ranks pulling off some of the largest heists ever done by the mob, before his eventual downfall. The film shows an older Hill with a cocaine addiction who eventually must become an informant to save his own tail.
Like I said, this left me underwhelmed. I’d love to go back one day and watch this film again because I’m sure I would like it a lot more if The Godfather was not so fresh in my mind. As it is, I can’t say that I really loved this film. I’m also trying to figure out why Robert DeNiro would be playing a guy called James Conway. One of the plot points of the film is that he can never be a ‘made man’ because he is not of Italian descent. What idiot decided to cast Robert DeNiro as someone who is not Italian?
Goodfellas is a well-made film with some really good acting in it, but as much as I wanted to love it, there just was something missing. It was probably Al Pacino.
I never cared for mafia movies before watching The Godfather, but now that I’ve seen that film I don’t think I’ll ever be able to enjoy another mobster flick again. Now that I know all these stories are just pale imitations of the 1970s classics, I’ll forever be comparing the characters to the Corleones.
Even the fact that Goodfellas is based on real life mobster Henry Hill doesn’t pique my interest. In fact, it actually works against me liking it. The Godfather is fictional, so I had an easier time just going along with the story. But Hill did some atrocious things in real life that are kind of glorified in this film. It’s much harder to root for him, and not entirely satisfying that the movie ends with him in the Witness Protection Program. Sure, he seems bored as hell living in suburbia, but he avoids prison. Where’s the real justice in that?
I also have to say that I’ve never been a fan of Ray Liotta. I don’t exactly know why, other than he just kind of creeps me out. This actually lends credence to him as a mafia guy, but did nothing to make me empathize with him. (Though, maybe I’m looking at this all wrong and the audience is never really meant to like Hill?) What I did enjoy was that some of the story is told from the point of view of Henry’s wife, Karen (Lorraine Bracco). I can’t recall any other organized crime film that focuses on the women behind the men. While these scenes are brief, they do provide some interesting insight into the story and the type of woman who would be attracted to gangsters.
Personally, I’d skip Goodfellas, and go right for The Godfather (Parts I and II). Or, if you must indulge in the real life story of Henry Hill, check out My Blue Heaven starring Steve Martin. This is based on Hill’s life while in Witness Protection. It’s not Martin’s best comedy, but it’s still very enjoyable.