Plot: What’s it about?
“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”
GoodFellas is the true and amoral autobiography of a small time hood named Henry Hill (Ray Liottta). It’s the anti-Godfather, a ground-level view of the underground. Breaking a night club line or breaking the law – it’s all the same to heedless Henry. Crime isn’t a moral issue here, it’s a lifestyle issue. The star of the movie is a way of life and not a character. It’s like Scarface without Scarface, but…that’s what it is. It’s a movie of vivid, viscious contrasts. The good fellas turn into raging bad guys in the wink of the camera’s eye and that’s what makes it so memorable. Criminals who are perpetual adolescents; a blackly humorous and deeply scary thought. Following Henry through three decades of life in the company of friends, we see both the actions and the consequences of those actions. Henry, with sidekicks Tommy (Joe Pesci) and Jimmy (Robert DeNiro), tantalize and terrorize to get their way. Avoiding the cops or bribing them, the style of life that they’re accustomed to is one that most of us will never know and GoodFellas tells that tale – and does it in glorious fashion.
Scorcese, a master with music and editing realizes that the images tell the story much better than words ever will. The fact that it’s a true story makes it that much more entertaining and interesting. As much as I liked the opening act of the movie, I now prefer the latter part of the film with the drug-induced Tommy and Henry trying to outwit the authorities. The movie is famous for so many things, but none moreso than Pesci’s improvised “Am I funny” speech. Oddly enough, the movie won only one Academy Award – Best Supporting Actor (Pesci). It lost out to Dances with Wolves in the Picture, Director, Supporting Actress, Screenplay and Cinematography categories. GoodFellas is a great movie, no doubt about it. The poster hangs above my bed. In the “Fun Fact” category, the “F” word is used 246 times, most of them by Tommy. Truly this is one of cinema’s masterpieces and it seems to only get better with age. If, by chance, you are reading this review and have never seen the film – do yourself a courtesy and check it out as soon as possible.
Video: How’s it look?
GoodFellas is, has been and most likely always will be one of Warner’s stars. It was one of the initial releases on the DVD format back in the mid to late 90’s and one of the initial Blu-ray and HD-DVD releases as well. In 2007, a Blu-ray DigiBook was released with a good-looking, but not great, transfer. Nearly a decade has passed and for the 25th anniversary of the film, a new transfer has been created for this Blu-ray. Having seen the film on virtually every format imaginable, I’m very accustomed to the way it looks (and has looked). Without a doubt, I can say that this is easily the best the film has ever appeared. The 1.85:1 AVC HD image has undergone a new 4K restoration that brings out the life, vividness and vigor in the film. Blacks are deep and solid, detail has been improved and though there’s still a fine layer of grain in the film, it works here as it does with so many of Scorsese’s other films. Doing a A/B comparison with my previous Blu-ray, the details are noticeable. My best explanation is to watch a re-mastered film and then its trailer. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn close.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Originally presented in surround, the film was given a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix for its DVD release and then that same mix was used on the 2007 DigiBook. As with the video presentation, the newly-upgraded DTS HD Master Audio mix is essentially everything that I’d imagined it would be. Scorsese’s films don’t rely on the soundtrack, but it’s more of an extension of the film itself. Hearing “Beyond the Ocean” or “Layla” in uncompressed sound only intensifies the emotional impact of the movie. Vocals seem a bit cleaned up as well, not that they were bad to begin with. Ray Liotta’s deep, gravely voice narrates the film and it sounds crisp and robust. Surrounds are active and the LFE even have a few moments to shine (when young Henry blows up a car). The ending scene where Tommy fires the gun just before the Sex Pistols song – amazing. No complaints here in the least!
Supplements: What are the extras?
Warner put out a very nice two disc Anniversary edition several months back and this is just a knocked down version of that one. The audio and video are the same, though the second disc and the majority of the supplements are lost save the two commentary tracks.
- Audio Commentary 1 (Cast and Crew) – A screen-specific track by Scorcese, Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Pigletti, Irwin Winkler, Barbara DeFina, Michael Ballhaus and Thelma Schoonmaker. A lot of people to be on one track. But, they’re not as talkative as they could be. Scorcese and Pigletti tend to dominate the track and it’s nice to hear a commentary by Scorcese, as he doesn’t do a lot of them.
- Audio Commentary 2 (Cop and Crook) – The real Henry Hill (who has since come out of the Witness Protection Program and since this track has passed away) and the FBI agent who arrested him, Edward McDonald. Hill is very frank when making his comments and I found it amazing at how many times he would say “this is exactly how it happened.” He later admits that 99% of what happened on screen is what really happened. My only complaint would be that he is a bit of a low talker and his words were kind of hard to make out.
The Bottom Line
GoodFellas is a classic in the most sincere form of the word. Its lasting influence and critical acclaim over the last two and a half decades are a testament to that. It’s one of those films that, whenever I see it on, I watch it. The acting is superb and I simply love the storyline. If you’re not a fan of the supplements on the two disc version, this one loses most of them (except the commentaries).