“As far back as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a gangster.”
Has any film ever set out its stall so simply, so iconically and with such cocksure swagger as ‘Goodfellas’?
Number 15 on IMDb’s Top 250, a personal favourite of virtually everyone I know, endlessly imitated by other film-makers (would Danny Boyle’s ‘Trainspotting’ or Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Boogie Nights’ have such verve if it weren’t for Scorsese’s template?), there’s either a book-length thesis to be written on ‘Goodfellas’ or nothing more to say but simply take one’s hat off to a powerhouse cast, an ace cinematographer (Michael Balhaus), an editor whose contribution to the film verges on genius (Thelma Schoonmaker) and a director at the top of his game.
Aw, the hell with it. I’m taking the easy way out on this one. Here’s ten classic moments from one of the all-time classic films:
The 1950s-set sequence where the young Henry Hill (Christopher Serrone) is seduced into the mob lifestyle even at the cost of his pissed-off father taking a belt to him: “the way I see it, everyone takes a beating now and then”.
The twenty-something Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) on a date with Karen (Lorraine Bracco), jumping the queue outside a nightclub, sliding in a side entrance, waltzing her through kitchens and corridors, glad-handing and slipping twenties to the employees, emerging near the stage and catching the eye of the maitre d’ who has a table carried in and set up in the premiere position. Karen, agog at Henry’s panache and connections, asks him what he does for a living. “I’m in construction,” he says.
Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) having everyone in tucks with his foul-mouthed account of a beating he took from an overzealous cop. “You’re a funny guy,” Henry avers. Oh-oh. “Funny how?”
Sonny Bunz (Tony Darrow) discovers the reality of having Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino) as a business partner: “Any problems, he goes to Paulie. Trouble with the bill? He can go to Paulie. Trouble with the cops, deliveries, Tommy. He can call Paulie. But now the guy’s gotta come up with Paulie’s money every week’ no matter what. Business bad? Fuck you, pay me. Oh, you had a fire? Fuck you, pay me. Place got hit by lightning? Fuck you, pay me.”
Henry responding to a distraught call from Karen after she’s been improperly treated by a guy on the block. In future online editions of the Oxford English Dictionary, when you look up “pistol whipping”, there’ll be a YouTube clip of Ray Liotta stalking up a driveway and using a gun butt to turn some football jock’s nose into gruyére.
Billy Batts (Frank Vincent) recently released from prison and somewhat belligerent during his celebratory drink. Running into a clearly not-in-the-mood-for-it Tommy DeVito, Billy makes the fatal mistake of bringing up Tommy’s youthful employment as a shoeshine boy. “Now go home and get your fuckin’ shinebox.” Bad mistake. Baaaaad mistake.
Jimmy Conway (Robert de Niro) engages in a little housecleaning when he decides he can’t trust his old crew. Cue ‘Layla’ and a whole bunch of corpses. “When they found Carbone in the meat truck he was frozen so stiff it took them three days to thaw him out for the autopsy.”
The increasingly coke-addled Henry spending a frenetic day trying to take care of business, look after his wheelchair-bound brother and cook a family meal while nursing a case of severe paranoia exacerbated by the omnipresence of a police helicopter. Remember: it’s not paranoia if they’re really out to get you.
Henry’s testimony when he sings like a canary to save his own skin: “When I was broke, I’d go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it’s all over … And that’s the hardest part ... Now I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schmuck.” Lessons learned: none.
That final, brutal, chilling image – superimposed – of Tommy unloading a pistol right into the camera. Right into Henry’s subconscious. What goes around, comes around.