Warner Bros. // 1990 // 145 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // March 4th, 2010
How am I "funny"?
"To us, those goody-good people who worked shitty jobs for bum paychecks and took the subway to work every day and worried about their bills were dead. I mean, they were suckers. They had no balls. If we wanted something we just took it. If anyone complained twice they got hit so bad, believe me, they never complained again." -- Henry Hill
Based on Wiseguy, Nicholas Pileggi's non-fiction book about mob informant Henry Hill, Goodfellas follows Hill's (Ray Liotta, Hannibal) rise from an Irish-Italian kid growing up in Brooklyn to a well-heeled gangster in the Lucchese crime family, working for a calm but menacing mobster named Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino, Cruising). Hill forms a partnership with a tough Irish crook named Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro, The Godfather: Part II) and his psychotically violent friend Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci, My Cousin Vinny). Henry enjoys the high life: wild nights at the Copacabana, the love of a beautiful wife (Lorraine Bracco, The Sopranos), and the affection of a string of mistresses. Life is great for Henry, Jimmy, and Tommy -- especially after they successfully steal nearly six million dollars from Lufthansa Airlines -- until they find themselves in trouble with the Lucchese family because of Henry's dealing drugs behind Paulie's back and Tommy's violent confrontation with made man Billy Batts.
For the better part of his career, director Martin Scorsese has essentially remade his first auteur film, 1973's Mean Streets, again and again and again. Even movies that are stylistically far removed from Mean Streets -- movies such as The Age of Innocence and The Last Temptation of Christ -- take up the earlier picture's fascination with characters who come to nasty ends when trying to navigate an insulated and rigidly defined subculture that does not or cannot tolerate deviations from its social norms. Since Goodfellas takes place in the world of organized crime, it is Scorsese's most direct revisting of the world and ideas of Mean Streets. Henry Hill is the same sort of level-headed, pragmatic hero as Mean Street's Charlie (played by Harvey Keitel). Like Charlie, Henry is compromised by his bond of friendship with a loose cannon who endangers him by violating the code of honor that governs their world. The thematic and narrative connections between Mean Streets and Goodfellas are so explicit that the latter can be viewed as a summation of Scorsese's career, a return to an old story in order to demonstrate the director's mastery of his art. And, boy, does he demonstrate mastery of filmmaking in Goodfellas. It's as close to a perfect film as you're likely to find.
Goodfellas is a movie made by a director at the top of his game. At this point in his career, Scorsese had had early successes like Taxi Driver in which he'd shown off his youthful verve and love of all things cinema; he'd blossomed into a mature filmmaker with the likes of Raging Bull; he'd explored the limits of his talent with seemingly non-Scorsese-esque movies like The King of Comedy, After Hours, and The Last Temptation of Christ. But Goodfellas is his masterpiece, an entirely virtuosic piece of filmmaking. From a technical perspective, Scorsese throws everything at us -- and I mean, everything: freeze frames, complex steadycam shots, voice-over narration, non-linear narrative, characters breaking the fourth wall, a scene cut music video-style to Derek and the Dominos' "Layla," and so many exploding squibs it's easy to lose count. In the hands of a lesser director, these techniques would come off as pretentious, overly self-conscious, and artificial. Scorsese works them so masterfully that they're practically invisible. They are merely tools for telling a compelling, richly detailed story about Henry Hill's life of crime -- and telling it beautifully. In Goodfellas Scorsese made a movie that is epic yet intimate, archetypal yet striking for its nitty-gritty realism. It is a gangster movie, a biopic, and an adaptation of someone else's book, yet is so infused with Scorsese's sensibilities, proclivities, and personal experience that it is, oddly, almost autobiographical (thematically speaking, anyway). It's the sort of big, bold, confident, fast-paced, funny, tragic, and true movie of which only the most elite filmmaking talent is capable.
A movie as great as Goodfellas deserves a 20th Anniversary Blu-ray better than this repackaging of Warner Bros.' previously released BD. The digibook packaging is beautiful (despite a maroon cover that evokes HD-DVD). It contains a glossy, full-color 35-page booklet with photos from the movie as well as background on Scorsese and the principle cast members. Inside the case is the exact same disc released back in 2007. That wouldn't be a horrible thing if the transfer was top-notch. It's not. The 1080p/VC-1 image is decent, but not exceptional. It delivers finer detail and more accurate color reproduction than any standard definition release, but black levels, detail, and color could all be stronger. The print from which the transfer was struck was mostly clean, but not pristine. While Goodfellas looks okay on Blu-ray, the transfer already looks a little dated. Too bad Warner Bros. didn't invest the money and effort in a new presentation; a movie of Goodfellas' stature and popularity deserves it.
The platter itself is single layered, which means that bit-rate was likely compromised in order ot squeeze the 145-minute feature and all of the extras onto a single disc. The image undoubtedly suffers, but it's the audio that is truly short changed by this arrangement. The presentation is a vanilla Dolby 5.1 surround track, with stereo surround dubs in French and English. The mix is clean and balanced, but nowhere near as bright and punchy as if we'd been treated to a fully remastered DTS-HD Master Audio or Dolby TrueHD upgrade.
The aforementioned extras include two audio commentaries, four featurettes, and a theatrical trailer. The first commentary is with Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi (who co-wrote the screenplay with Scorsese, based on his own book). Recorded separately they deliver a thoughtful and erudite examination of the picture. The second track is with Henry Hill and Edward McDonald, the FBI agent who busted him. It's a fascinating track that compares and contrasts the film with the real events upon which it is based. "Getting Made" (29:36) is a decent making-of featurette that combines vintage production footage with modern day retrospective interviews with Scorsese and the cast. "Made Men: The Legacy of Goodfellas" (13:33) is a love fest in which directors Jon Favreau, the Hughes brothers, Frank Darabont, Joe Carnahan, and others gush about Goodfellas. "Paper is Cheaper Than Film" (4:27) compares Scorsese's rough pencil sketches of scenes with final footage from the movie. "The Workaday Gangster" (7:58) is an examination of the low-level gangsters that are the focus of Goodfellas. The most interesting aspect of the featurette is the involvement of Henry Hill, who talks about how accurately the movie captures mobsters' day-to-day lives.
The set also contains a second disc, a DVD called Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film (105:49), reheated from The Warner Gangsters Collection, Volume Four box set. The feature-length documentary examines the gangster film genre from the 1915 silent Regeneration, to classics from the 1930s and '40s like Little Caesar (1931) and White Heat (9149), to modern classics such as Bonnie and Clyde and Goodfellas. As the title indicates, the golden age of gangster movies is the primary focus of the piece, so most of its running time is devoted to movies from the 1930s and '40s. Produced by Warner Bros., it is entirely concerned with Warner Bros. productions and studio head Jack Warner's and producer Daryl F. Zanuck's influence on the genre. Since Warner Bros. was responsible for the most memorable gangster movies of the pre-war era, the documentary's narrow focus doesn't constitute much of a problem.
The DVD also contains four gangster related Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes animated shorts: I Like Mountain Music, She Was an Acrobat's Daughter, Racketeer Rabbit, and Bugs and Thugs.
If you don't already own Goodfellas on Blu-ray, this 20th Anniversary Edition is the one to go with since its packaging is more attractive than the 2007 release and it contains a high-quality documentary about the gangster genre. If you already own the 2007 Blu-ray, don't bother with this one. A handful of new extras not directly related to the feature and no A/V upgrade mean Goodfellas: 20th Anniversary Edition isn't even close to being a worthy double-dip candidate.
Warner Bros. should've done better by Goodfellas. What's right is
right. You understand what I'm talking about?
Review content copyright © 2010 Dan Mancini; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
Running Time: 145 Minutes
Release Year: 1990
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Vintage Cartoons