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 was created for the 25th Anniversary Blu-ray editions. Obviously that master has been used for this Ultra HD/4K release. Having spent the better part of a year watching these 4K films and their Blu-ray counterparts, I’ve come to a few conclusions…first of all, there isn’t a night and day difference in the way these look. The resolution, fine detail, contrast and everything else is nearly identical. The main thing that I notice (and this is just me, though I’m sure my conclusions resonate with other reviewers) is the color. The HDR (High Dynamic Range) is the main selling point for some of these films. When watching this new version of GoodFellas, I looked at a few scenes from the Blu-ray and then watched those same scenes from the 4K version. My finding was that the color seemed to be more “present” (for lack of a better word). Flesh tones didn’t appear flat and pasty, rather had hues of pink and seemed more natural. It’s as if everything looked as it looked to the naked eye as opposed to taking a picture of it. I know that’s an odd way to describe it, but that’s the best way I can communicate it. There’s just a warmer, deeper color saturation present in the 4K version. And unless you’re going back and doing an A/B comparison, it’s hard to pick up on. Given the choice, I’ll always favor the Ultra HD version, but Warner’s efforts here are noticeable.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Sadly, the audio is the same as it was on the 2015 Blu-ray’s. There is no new Dolby Atmos mix, it’s the same DTS HD Master Audio tracks. 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?
2015 was the 25th Anniversary of this film and Warner put out not one, but two versions of this on Blu-ray. They’d done a wonderful job at re-mastering the picture and some new supplements were created for that release. Of note, the cover art had been changed to feature only Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta’s characters with a handgun at the bottom. I’m pleased to say that this Ultra HD copy has gone back to the familiar trio that has become synonymous with the film. The extras are the same as the two disc set (the single disc contained only the commentaries), however the 36 page book and the letter from Martin Scorsese are both missing – everything else is identical.
Disc 1 – The Movie/Commentaries
- 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.
Disc 2 – Special Features
- Getting Made – A 30 minute segment on how the movie went from script to screen.
- Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film – The most robust supplement on the disc is this 106 minute documentary. While not focusing on Goodfellas per se, but rather the genre as a whole with emphasis on some of the James Cagney films.
- Made Men: The Goodfellas Legacy – This tells how the movie has inspired some of today’s younger directors, among them: Jon Faverau, Antoine Fuqua, Richard Linklater and Frank Darabont. They tell of how brutally realistic the movie was and how it ushered in a new wave of how to make films.
- The Workaday Gangster – As told by Henry Hill, the life he had versus the life he has now and how he couldn’t get out of the business.
- Animated Shorts – From Warner’s vast catalog, four are included: I Like Mountain Music, She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter, Racketeer Rabbit and Bugs and Thugs.
- Paper is Cheaper than Film – Essentially a fancy way of showing some storyboard to screen comparisons by Scorcese.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Scorsese’s GoodFellas – This new 30 minute documentary features a veritable “who’s who” of Scorsese’s films. Produced by Director Brett Ratner, this is a look back at the film with stars from it as they describe the movie and its lasting influence. Although listed, I wasn’t able to find anything by Jack Nicholson (who appeared in Scorsese’s The Departed). Maybe it’s just me?
Disc 3 – Ultra HD/4K Copy
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, by some chance, you missed out on one of the two 25th Anniversary editions released in 2015 and have bee waiting for a 4K copy to arrive – the wait is over.