Sometime last summer, I remember reading a non-fiction book written by Nicholas Pileggi called Wiseguy. It was an engrossing book discussing about the life of Henry Hill, who spent thirty years of his life living under the thumb of the Lucchese family. It went into great detail on how he worshipped the family, what cons and murders he pulled off for and with his fellow comrades, and how it all fell apart for them after the successful Lufthansa heist of 1978.
Well, last night, I was finally introduced to what the book became: my first new movie of the year, and one of Martin Scorsese's all time greatest cinematic masterpieces, GoodFellas. GoodFellas heightened the realism of the life of Henry Hill, and the movie even heightened the emotional side. I chuckled with Henry, Jimmy, Tommy, and Karen, I rooted with them (a bit), I pondered over things with them...heck, I even teared up with them at one point. Yes, I actually felt bad for someone who I should've known was formerly a gangster. You know it's good when the movie plays with your heartstrings over your better judgement.
Everything the movie covers about Henry Hill's life is almost exactly like how it was covered in Wiseguy. It also helps that the author, Nicholas Pillegi, co-wrote the screenplay with Martin Scorsese. SPOILER ALERT For those of you who read the book and have seen the movie, the movie even keeps the back-and-forth narrations between Henry and Karen. As far as I know, there's one form of character establishment I really love, and that's more than one main character being given equal and proper exposition about themselves. SPOILER ALERT ENDS HERE There are a few things, though, that I remember being elaborated on in great detail in Wiseguy, reduced to mere mention in GoodFellas. I was especially surprised to see the last names of some of the gang members as shown in the book changed around for the movie.
As far as the characterization goes, all the characters, especially Henry Hill, feel as three-dimensional as looking at Michelangelo's David from all sides. They all express some intriguing personalities, even though their motives are really red flags about the crime family's lifestyle and actions. As real people, they are equally as interesting, and make their cinematic equivalents and all the events in the movie all the more powerful.
The acting is knocked out of the ball park here. In fact, this may be the reason why I felt so bad for some of the gangsters when I shouldn't have. The acting from Ray Liotta, Robert de Niro, and Lorraine Bracci all feel natural, and sink in well with the characters they played here. And I think I'm on the same boat as most everyone else when I say that Joe Pesci deserved his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for playing Tommy here. But never mind the fact that he does most of the carpet bombing of f-bombs in the movie and gets into chillingly violent tantrums with other people; there's more to it than that. When I first saw Joe Pesci, I still thought slightly of Joe Pesci, as I did with almost all the actors throughout the movie. But once he started getting in character for the first half of his on-screen appearance, he started peeling away his actor self until all we saw of him was Tommy. It was that pitch perfect.
This all added up to a really worthwhile Christmas gift. With that said, if you can tolerate all the language and violence in the movie – and I might add, the beat downs CAN get pretty nasty – or are just in mood to be immensely drawn in to the history of real-life gangster life in America, then don't hesitate to give this a shot (no pun intended). You'll be in for quite a ride here.
Originally published on Facebook, January 2, 2017