Movie Review: Goodfellas (1990)


Seen: On dvd on my laptop, rented from Hollywood Express in Cambridge.

Ok let’s get this out of the way: I don’t like this movie. I know it’s held in high esteem by so many people, and I know Martin Scorsese is Important and everyone loves gangster movies with Italian-Americans, but this is not for me. I watched it because I was commissioned to design a poster for it, which I enjoyed making, but since I watched it in full I also have to review it. So here we are. Just wanted to start with that so you won’t be aghast at my negative reaction to a movie that honestly isn’t very good. Here we go. Inspired by true events, Goodfellas traces the rise and fall of gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he becomes part of a major New York criminal enterprise. He’d always dreamed of being a gangster, and believes the respect and wealth that he gains are worth the murders and threat of imprisonment and all that. As the years pass he starts a family, does some time, gets deep into drug trafficking, and eventually becomes an informant when several of his friends are killed.

The thing about Goodfellas is, I don’t care about it, like at all. I don’t care about any of the characters, I don’t care about the story, I don’t care about the visuals or the music or the production. So little about it interests me. I know it’s not a poorly made film, and I know the cast is generally strong, and that to a lot of viewers this type of story is important, but honestly I can’t believe so many people can sit through 146 minutes of this, and like it so much. Despite narrating almost every single scene (except for a few segments when his wife abruptly narrates), the protagonist is strangely flat. I felt like I knew very little about his personality even though this was his biography, and wondered if the narration was meant to haphazardly give him some dimension. I didn’t understand his motivations or his feelings. The bulk of the charisma is handled by Joe Pesci, who is unexpectedly terrifying as loose cannon Tommy DeVito, and Robert De Niro, who is sinister as the deceptively friendly James Conway, but their roles are limited. Suffice to say I hated all of the female characters, but I won’t pretend that that’s a surprise. One of the few times this movie caught my interest was when Henry’s wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco) threatened to kill the adulterous Henry, which I was ALL FOR, but then she wimps out and goes on some monologue about how she couldn’t leave him because she was still attracted to him. Whatever.

Admittedly I am definitely not the audience for this type of movie, which is why I wouldn’t completely write it off. I don’t even know that I hated it, I just couldn’t care less about it, really. It’s not offensive or anything, and there are some things about it I liked, like the aforementioned performances of Pesci and De Niro, plus all the discussion of Italian food (I was even making a good pesto while I watched it, so I felt very connected to my Italian roots). But there’s really so little here that interests me, and yet somehow SO MUCH movie, it just went on and on and I was constantly checking how much time was left. The narrative is poorly paced, and I felt like there was no drive, no direction, no oomph. And the face that I didn’t care about any of the characters, and indeed found most of them reprehensible, didn’t help matters. I honestly don’t know if we were supposed to be rooting for anyone, because I sure as hell wasn’t. They’re all just bullies who think they deserve an inordinate amount of wealth just because they, what? Threaten people? Wear nice suits? Speak Italian? I have no idea what gave them all such big heads. And if we’re not supposed to root for them, that’s ok, but then at least make them more compelling characters.

In the end it all boils down to boredom. Goodfellas is boring.


Pair This Movie With: I don’t know, other boring manly gangster movies I guess. It’s not my field.

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