Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Tony Darrow, Mike Starr, Frank Vincent
Nicholas Pileggi (novel, "Wise Guy"), Martin Scorsese
Three Decades of Life in the Mafia.
When Martin Scorsese, one of the world's most skillful and respected directors, reunited with two-time Oscar winner Robert De Niro in GoodFellas, the result was one of the most powerful films of the year. Based on the true-life best seller "Wiseguy" by Nicholas Pileggi and backed by a dynamic pop/rock oldies soundtrack, critics and filmgoers alike declared GoodFellas great. It was named 1990's best film by the New York, Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics. And it earned six Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. Robert De Niro received wide recognition for his performance as veteran criminal Jimmy "The Gent" Conway. And as the volatile Tommy DeVito, Joe Pesci walked off with the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Academy Award nominee Lorraine Bracco, Ray Liotta and Paul Sorvino also turned in electrifying performances. You have to see it to believe it - then watch again. GoodFellas explores the criminal life like no other movie.
$6.368 million on 1070 screens.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
Spanish Dolby 2.0
Runtime: 145 min.
Release Date: 8/17/2004
• Audio Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese, Former GoodFella Henry Hill, Co-Screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, Producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, Cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, Editor Thelma Schoomaker, and Actors Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Paul Sorvino, Lorraine Bracco, Joe Pesci And Frank Vincent
• Audio Commentary with Henry Hill and Former FBI Agent Edward McDonald
• “Getting Made: The Making of GoodFellas” Documentary
• “The Workaday Gangster” Featurette’
• “Made Men: The GoodFellas Legacy” Featurette
• “Paper Is Cheaper Than Film” Featurette
• Theatrical Trailer
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Goodfellas: Special Edition (1990)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 11, 2004)
I once viewed 1990’s GoodFellas as part of a Martin Scorsese “mini-marathon” in which I also took in 1973’s Mean Streets and 1980’s Raging Bull. Interestingly, I found that GoodFellas largely addressed the various concerns that I had about Raging Bull. No details about how the characters became what they are? Not a problem here! GoodFellas spends a great deal of time setting up the story, as we see young Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta as an adult) experience the enormous allure of the "wiseguys" up close. It's made so abundantly clear why Henry chose such a path that I'm sure many a viewer wishes they'd taken the same route.
Scorsese manages to both glorify and condemn organized crime all at the same time. For certain, the many perks of that life become abundantly clear throughout the film. We see just how high on the hog these folks lived, just as if they were American royalty.
On the other hand, Scorsese clearly depicts the prices to be paid. Some of these are rather obvious - jail, death, etc. - but some didn't seem so apparent to me until I'd seen the movie a few times. Throughout Mafia films, the concept of loyalty is frequently bandied about and made to seem central to that way of life. GoodFellas makes it obvious that loyalty only goes so far; throughout the movie, virtually every character does whatever he needs to do to get by - screw the other person, no matter who they are. Shared history and past allegiances mean nothing to these people; it's all "survival of the fittest" with them.
It's ironic to consider just exactly how amoral and reprehensible these gangsters are, since they seem much more overtly "well-adjusted" than characters like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle or Raging Bull’s Jake La Motta. Those men’s demons clearly became demonstrated throughout the film, whereas we never see any evidence that the characters of GoodFellas recognize just how inhuman they are. These are people without any shred of self-awareness, since they apparently require absolute self-confidence to survive. More egocentric characters you will not find; each gangster clearly believes that the world revolves around him.
When I said "he" and "him" in the previous paragraphs, that wasn't a politically incorrect error on my part. Women haven't played much of a role in most of Scorsese's films; Taxi Driver, Mean Streets and Raging Bull all clearly work from a male perspective in which women generally reside in the background.
GoodFellas doesn't exactly shatter that image - the focus clearly resides mostly on the males - but Scorsese does make a much greater attempt to demonstrate the female side of things and their perspective. Most of this comes through Karen (Lorraine Bracco), Henry's wife. Just as we learned what interested young Henry, we very clearly see what intoxicated Karen: the money, the power, the sheer energy of the entire lifestyle. Such a situation would really need to be intoxicating, because it seems unlikely that anyone who objectively views the situation would honestly believe such a life to be worth the risks. It's apparent that most of the women involved with the other gangsters essentially came from similar situations, so they really don't know any better; Karen, however, is an outsider, so she would have less pre-investment.
That's why it's good that Scorsese does demonstrate to us just how giddy Karen's experiences with Henry were and why she bought in to the life. This perspective was missing from Raging Bull, and though GoodFellas could have succeeded without it, the female point of view makes it a much more complete and fulfilling movie. Rarely do filmmakers try so hard to illustrate why people - men and women - remain in damaging situations, but Scorsese attempts this and succeeds.
For once, Robert De Niro doesn't offer the strongest performance in the cast. To be sure, he's very fine, although at that point, he had started to ever-so-slightly degenerate into self-parody; at times, he seems just a little too comfortable in his role as Jimmy Conway and he seems to coast. Still, he's very good, and whatever faults occur in his performance are minimal.
However, Joe Pesci's Tommy is clearly the best realized performance in the group, one for which he won a well-deserved Best Supporting Actor Oscar. In a group of amoral characters, none are more so than Tommy, who is one nasty little piece of work. What makes Tommy and most of the others so chilling, though, is the fact that they reflect so little recognition that they're messed up. In fact, Tommy seems to delight in his psychotic image; he's the little guy who's determined to scare all of those who intimidated him when he was younger. Pesci plays Tommy with relish and tears apart the screen with his vicious energy.
As the Hills, both Liotta and Bracco are fine. Liotta is frequently cited as the weak link in the cast, but I don't really agree. He has the most difficult role since he's the focus of the film, and he's also a comparatively milquetoast character; it's very easy for him to get upstaged by the multitude of flashier gangsters we see throughout the film. Liotta could have been better, I suppose, but I thought he did well.
My opinion of Bracco's turn as Karen has modified over the years. Initially, I had a hard time getting past her vocal style; she spoke in such a strange cadence that the whole thing seemed oddly forced. Since then I've gotten used to it and I've been able to see what an open, honest performance she gives. It's not a showy role, but Bracco does a terrific job of demonstrating the emotional rollercoaster Karen seems to ride on a virtually daily basis.
GoodFellas stands as Scorsese's masterpiece. While many of his other films are very strong, I don't think any really compete with it. From start to finish, he demonstrates such complete self-confidence that it's astonishing. GoodFellas is a bold, daring film that uses every tool at the director's disposal to create a true epic. Is it "the best mob movie ever," as the DVD case touts? Maybe, maybe not; if not, it's a close number two to the first Godfather.
The DVD Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B/ Bonus B+
GoodFellas appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The prior release of GoodFellas came out very early in DVD’s existence, and it suffered from two strikes: it was a “flipper” that split the movie onto two sides of one disc, and it failed to offer anamorphic enhancement.
For years, fans clamored for Warner to fix those two problems, and with this version, they finally did. Despite the various strikes against it, the old disc looked reasonably good. Nonetheless, the new transfer definitely outdid and it made the movie look better than ever.
Sharpness consistently appeared excellent. Almost no instances of softness ever popped up during the movie. Instead, it came across as nicely distinctive and concise. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I noticed only some minor edge enhancement at times. Print flaws essentially looked absent; a speck or two cropped up but that was it.
For the most part, GoodFellas went with a naturalistic palette, though one that tended toward the red side of the register. The colors remained tight and solid throughout the flick. Even the occasional examples of red lighting - often problematic on video - looked firm and didn’t show any bleeding or noise. Blacks were dense and firm, while low-light shots appeared nicely visible and never became too dark. I found little about which to complain in this solid transfer.
While the picture improved on that of the old DVD, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of GoodFellas sounded like the same one from the earlier release. The mix didn’t seem terrific, but it was above average for audio from 1990. The soundfield emphasized the front speakers to a large degree. Speech showed up in the right spots except for the narration. It usually popped up close to the center, but at times it blended to the sides for no apparent reason, and that caused some minor distractions.
Music consistently offered nice stereo imaging, and effects often broadened out the spectrum well. The various elements were accurately placed and meshed together neatly. Surround usage remained minor throughout the flick and played a small role. Most of that activity occurred during the May 11, 1980 sequence, which included helicopters and the most prominent rock music in the flick. Otherwise, the surrounds essentially remained passive.
The quality of the audio also seemed good but unexceptional. Speech usually came across as natural and concise. I noticed no issues with intelligibility, though a little edginess crept in at times. Music varied dependent on the source, as the movie included a wide range of tunes. Overall, they were adequately reproduced and seemed to represent the original recordings well. Effects displayed good accuracy and were clean. I noticed virtually no distortion and also thought the elements packed nice bass response when necessary; for example, gunshots blasted effectively. The audio of GoodFellas never excelled but it was more than acceptable.
While the original edition of GoodFellas included skimpy extras, this one seems reasonably expansive. On DVD One, we find a text listing of Awards won by the film as well as two separate audio commentaries. The first comes from director Martin Scorsese, writer Nicholas Pileggi, producers Barbara De Fina and Irwin Winkler, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, former GoodFella Henry Hill, and actors Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Frank Vincent, and Paul Sorvino, almost all of whom were recorded separately for this edited, non-screen-specific piece; toward the end, we heard from Liotta and Hill together, but otherwise the participants stayed on their own. The commentary doesn’t fill the movie’s entire running time, as it skips some parts and lasts a total of two hours, four minutes, and 13 seconds.
We learn about many subjects connected to GoodFellas. At the start, Pileggi and Scorsese go over developing the script and bringing the movie to the screen. From there we hear specifics of the production, with an emphasis on the creation of some notable scenes, and we also get information about casting, the actors’ approaches to their characters, and the atmosphere on the set. We find some fascinating tales like Sorvino’s generally negative outlook; he initially regretted taking the part, and when he first saw the final flick, he hated it. Overall, this commentary proves extremely informative and engaging.
Entitled “Cop and Crook”, for the second track, we find notes from Henry Hill and former FBI agent Edward McDonald. The pair sit together for their running, screen-specific commentary. Not surprisingly, Hill dominates the track as he talks about the reality behind the film. We learn about specifics of various situations and people. We also hear about some events not depicted in the film, like Hill’s military service. McDonald presents things from the law enforcement point of view, as he details the methods used to snare wiseguys and goes over some different circumstances. He also chats a little about his cameo role as himself.
While valuable overall, this commentary becomes somewhat frustrating at times. It suffers from more than a few gaps, and at times Hill just chuckles about the excesses of his youth. I thought Hill could have elaborated on more of the situations that he did, which made it disappointing when he failed to do so. Nonetheless, there’s enough useful and interesting insight here to make the commentary worth a listen.
Now we head to DVD Two, where we start with Getting Made: The Making of GoodFellas, a 29-minute and 30-second documentary. We see archival materials, movie clips, and interviews with Scorsese, DeFina, Winkler, Pileggi, Liotta, De Niro, Pesci, Sorvino, Bracco, Vincent, Hill, Schoonmaker, and Ballhaus. We hear about working on the script, casting and the actors’ work on their roles, Scorsese’s approach to the film and improvisation, photographic choices, the film’s editing and music, and reactions to the film and studio concerns. Surprisingly, “Made” avoids much redundancy after the commentary, as it presents similar subjects but different takes on them. It moves through the production in a clear and concise manner and offers a nicely tight examination of the film and its creation.
After this we find The Workaday Gangster, a look at gangster realities. It lasts seven minutes and 50 seconds as we get comments from Hill, DeFina, Pileggi, Vincent, Scorsese, and Sorvino. Mostly they reflect on the issues that affected Hill and others of his ilk, with an emphasis on the darker side of the experience. Some of this echoes Hill’s commentary, but it nonetheless provides a good little glimpse of the truth behind the movie.
In Made Men: The GoodFellas Legacy, we hear reactions from some folks not associated with the film. The 13-minute and 25-second featurette includes remarks from actor/director Jon Favreau, directors Albert and Allen Hughes, director Joe Carnahan, director Richard Linklater, director Antoine Fuqua, and director Frank Darabont. They lavish praise on GoodFellas and let us know what they think makes it such a special film. This offers a few interesting perspectives since it comes from filmmakers, but it seems too heavily focused on plaudits and not enough on a critical interpretation of the work.
In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, the DVD concludes with Paper Is Cheaper Than Film, a look at Scorsese’s planning. It takes four minutes and 25 seconds to show movie clips along with Scorsese’s original script notes and mini-storyboards used to compose shots. It’s a moderately insightful glimpse of Scorsese’s processes.
GoodFellas itself remains Scorsese’s masterpiece, as it offers the best realization of his style yet filmed. Never before or since did Scorsese seem so supremely confident and in charge of his gifts in this stunning flick. The DVD offers very good picture with more that satisfactory audio and an informative and useful collection of extras. GoodFellas earns my strong recommendation, and that goes for owners of the prior DVD, as this new one qualifies as a good candidate for an upgrade.
Note: GoodFellas can be purchased on its own or as part of the Martin Scorsese Collection. The latter includes GoodFellas along with the new special editions of Mean Streets, Who’s That Knocking On My Door?, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, and After Hours. Separately, those five retail for $106.87, but the Collection goes for a mere $59.92. That makes it a real steal for Scorsese fans.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.7571 Stars|| Number of Votes: 140|