Goodfellas title image
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146 min.
Release Date
Goodfellas poster

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

That early line in Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas, spoken by its protagonist, Henry Hill, played to fiery perfection by Ray Liotta, begins the ensuing marathon of compartmentalization. It begs the question: Why does Henry want to be a gangster? When he speaks this first line of his almost omnipresent narration, the situation is precarious. He and two fellow wiseguys, Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), have pulled off the road to check a noise from the trunk. A made guy, supposedly untouchable, writhes in the back, clinging to life. Tommy delivers a few heated blows with a kitchen knife, and Jimmy finishes the job with four gunshots, putting their victim out of his misery, all of them bathed in hellfire red from the rear lights of the car. Later, they will bury their victim. After six months, they will have to move the decomposing corpse to another location, prompting Henry to vomit violently while his compatriots crack jokes. Given miserable circumstances like these, one should again ask: Why does Henry want to be a gangster? Throughout the film, he remarks on the power and freedoms of the wiseguy lifestyle, and the breakneck filmmaking conveys the associated euphoria. Scorsese conveys Henry’s world through an immersion in his subjectivity, a first-hand testimony rendered with an infectious energy and style. All the while, Henry conveniently ignores or suppresses the grim realities and many contradictions between his métier and how he talks about that world.

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