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Saturday, May 2, 2015

GOODFELLAS (25TH ANNIVERSARY) -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

25 years later, I'm still ambivalent about Martin Scorsese's celebrated mob classic GOODFELLAS (1990). It's a masterpiece of cinema that's almost fiercely watchable even after many viewings--I've seen it at least thirty or forty times--and yet it's populated by an assortment of sordid characters that I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.

The true story of low-level mobster Henry Hill as told to author Nicholas Pileggi in his book "Wiseguy", this adaptation is the pinnacle of what seems to have been Scorsese's ongoing exorcism of his own ambivalent feelings toward such characters around whom he himself grew up. His fascination with the crime-ridden (but colorful) hellhole that is the underbelly of New York begins with MEAN STREETS and continues onward through TAXI DRIVER and RAGING BULL until finally reaching its ultimate expression in this study of the typical gangster's everyday life in all its mundane horror.

As played by Ray Liotta (HANNIBAL, COMEBACK SEASON), the young Henry works his way into the ranks of boss Big Paulie Cicero's (Paul Sorvino) gang after admiring their way of life from afar. The first half of the film is Henry's "come-up" as he enjoys the glamour and freedom from traditional authority, constantly awash in easy cash and given the V.I.P. treatment wherever he goes. A night out at the Copacabana with his new girlfriend Karen (Lorraine Bracco), who, for better or worse, will become his wife, is brilliantly staged by the director to emphasize the elevated state of luxury and privilege through which Henry moves due to his mob connections.

That we don't find Henry utterly repulsive is due mainly to the fact that his closest cohorts are much worse than he is. Robert De Niro (RIGHTEOUS KILL) is at his best as Irish hood Jimmy "The Gent" Conway, a cunning, ruthless criminal who will do anything or kill anyone to get ahead, and Joe Pesci has his most career-defining role as the crazy, loose-cannon killer Tommy DeVito. Henry, with his comparatively mild dealings in drugs, racketeering, and mere physical violence, seems almost like a nice guy as his partners in crime murder their way through the rest of the cast.

Pesci has a field day as Tommy and gives the film its most memorable moments. Henry makes the mistake of describing Tommy as "funny" after a particularly humorous anecdote, to which Tommy appears to take offense in a big way. "Funny how?" he spits, suddenly becoming deadly serious. "I amuse you? I'm a clown?" Tommy's history as a psycho makes the situation unbearably tense until he finally breaks character and starts giggling at Henry's distress. When he guns down a gangly kid named Spider (Michael Imperioli of "The Sopranos") for back-talking him during a poker game, and then later brutally assassinates a made man over a verbal insult, we're shocked into seeing just how ugly and horrific is this life into which Henry has so inextricably entrenched himself.

After that, GOODFELLAS becomes a harrowing "express elevator to Hell" (as Hudson so eloquently puts it in ALIENS) for our seedy protagonist and his increasingly disillusioned mob wife Karen as things begin to fall apart around them. Following the wildly successful robbery of an airport for millions of dollars in cash, Jimmy decides he can't bear to part with any of it and starts killing off everyone else involved rather than have to divvy up the loot. 

Things really go to pot when Henry and the rest of the gang start getting pinched for their crimes and spending serious prison time, after which Big Paulie turns his back on Henry for dealing in drugs. Finally, even Henry begins to fear for his life under Jimmy's wary glare.

It all comes to a peak with Scorsese's most beautifully executed sequence in the film, Henry's day of coke-fueled paranoia as he juggles gun-running, coke-smuggling, and cooking a huge spaghetti dinner for his family under the watchful eye of a government helicopter. Rarely has this sort of raw, nerve-wracking anxiety ever been so accurately and so cinematically portrayed as it is here. Liotta really sells it as well, with Henry self-destructing before our eyes.

Scorsese's use of various camera and editing techniques is masterful, and much more smoothly integrated into the look and feel of the film than the more overtly experimental style used by Oliver Stone in NATURAL BORN KILLERS. Classical direction alternates with handheld camera, whip-pans, and abrupt editing as Scorsese sees fit, all skillfully integrated into the stylistic whole. If anything, this movie is a joy to watch simply for how exquisitely put together it is and how much pure craftsmanship Scorsese shows in its execution.

But most of all, GOODFELLAS somehow transcends its penny-dreadful setting and characters by being a fascinating freak show of extremes, one for which we can buy our ticket and observe from a safe vantage point while thinking, "There but for the grace of God go I." I wouldn't go near these vile monsters in real life, but like any other monster movie, watching them in action is the kind of perverse, voyeuristic thrill that only a showman like Scorsese can dish out.


The 2-disc Blu-ray from Warner Home Entertainment features a remastered version of the film in 1080p high definition 16 x 9 1:85:1 with Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio and French and Spanish 2.0 audio. Subtitles are in English, French, and Spanish. Disc one includes two invaluable commentary tracks, one consisting of cast and crew interviews and the other provided by Henry Hill himself.

Hill's comments are especially interesting when he compares what we're seeing on the screen with how it happened in real life. Henry is joined by Ed McDonald, head of the organized crime strike force in New York who was intimately involved in the film's events and plays himself in one scene.

Disc two contains the half-hour documentary "Scorsese's Goodfellas", the feature-length documentary "Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film", and featurettes "Getting Made", "Made Men", "The Workaday Gangster", and "Paper is Cheaper Than Fiction." Also contained are four vintage Warner Brothers cartoons and the film's trailer. 

Finally, the set contains a 36-page hardbound photo book, a personal letter from Martin Scorsese, and instructions on how to download a digital HD ultraviolet copy of the film.

Buy it at

Street date: May 5, 2015

(Note: stills used are not taken from the Blu-ray discs.)


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