Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: GoodFellas (1990)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - Three Decades of Life in the Mafia.

Henry Hill is a small time gangster, who takes part in a robbery with Jimmy Conway and Tommy De Vito, two other gangsters who have set their sights a bit higher. His two partners kill off everyone else involved in the robbery, and slowly start to climb up through the hierarchy of the Mob. Henry, however, is badly affected by his partners success, but will he stoop low enough to bring about the downfall of Jimmy and Tommy?

Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino, Frank Sivero, Tony Darrow, Mike Starr, Frank Vincent
Academy Awards: Won for Best Supporting Actor-Joe Pesci. Nominated for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actress-Lorraine Bracco; Best Film Editing. 1991.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1; audio English DD 5.1, Spanish Dolby Surround; subtitles English, Spanish, French; closed-captioned; double sided - single layered; 34 chapters; rated R; 145 min.; $24.99; street date 9/3/97.
Supplements: Production Notes; Two Theatrical Trailers.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists


Picture/Sound/Extras: B/B/D

When I viewed 1990ís GoodFellas on DVD, it was as part of a Martin Scorsese ďmini-marathonĒ in which I also took in 1973ís Mean Streets and 1980ís Raging Bull. Interestingly, I found that GF 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 that have 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 Driverís Travis Bickle or Raging Bullís Jake La Motta. Those menís 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 play 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, 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 an 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.

As of 2001, 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:

GoodFellas appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this double-sided, single-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Note two things that are not typos in my review: yes, this is a flipper, as the movie spreads to both sides of the disc. And no, itís not 16X9 enhanced, even though the case mistakenly indicates that the movie features this benefit. Nonetheless, the overall quality of the image seemed fairly strong.

Many times the picture appeared to be near reference quality; it could look crisp and clean, with vibrant colors and solid blacks. However, it was an inconsistent image, and those hues sometimes crossed over from "vibrant" to "oversaturated;" red lighting especially ran into problems. A vague murkiness also marred the picture at times, and occasional spots of grain or print flaws also hurt its overall score. It's a solid-looking movie, on the whole, but it has enough problems to knock it down to a "B."

Although the DVD doesn't specifically say it, GoodFellas appeared to be one of those "remastered for Dolby Digital 5.1" deals. Don't get your hopes up; this sucker isn't going to compare with Saving Private Ryan. Still, the mix was pretty good, which was important for a film that used music as such an integral part of the action. All portions of the audio sounded solid, with natural and clear dialogue, effects and music. It was not a very wide soundstage, though; for dialogue and effects, the center channel dominated. Music appeared in the other front speakers, and it also popped out of the surrounds on occasion. Very rarely did we get anything else from the rears, but some ambient audio did occur at times. Unless I was hallucinating, I even detected some split surround usage; check out the scene toward the end where a helicopter chases Henry to see if I was right. All in all, the audio of GoodFellas worked fairly well.

Less exciting were the DVDís extras. We find two theatrical trailers, mildly interesting cast and crew biographies, some brief text production notes, and a listing of awards for which the film was nominated and/or won. Scorseseís movies havenít been treated well on DVD, and GoodFellas is no exception.

Still, the disc is fairly satisfying as a whole. GoodFellas itself remains Scorseseís masterpiece, as it offers the best realization of his style yet filmed. The DVD provides generally good picture and sound but it fails to include significant extras. At some point I hope that Warner Bros. will revisit GoodFellas on DVD. It could use a new 16X9 transfer, and itíd also be nice to lose its status as a flipper. In addition, an updated release could benefit from some additional supplements. I expect this will happen at some point, though when - or whether - it might occur is completely unknown to me. As it stands, GoodFellas is a solid enough DVD in its current incarnation to merit your attention.


Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.

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