Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Written By: Nicholas Pileggi
After The Godfather, this is far and away the next greatest mafia movie that has ever been made. Nothing can and will ever touch The Godfather but this film is the standard I set all other modern mob movies against. I was only six years old when this movie came out so I don’t remember the reaction it got when it was released. I wish I could have been around for it. It came out the same year as The Godfather Part III and must have completely blown it away. The Godfather III was actually nominated for more Academy Awards that year but so was Dick Tracy and neither are even half as good as this film. This is one of Scorsese’s best films and it has always been one of my favorite mafia movies.
The opening scene in this movie does a great job setting the tone for the film. Everything is all cool but brace yourself because at any moment you might be subject to sudden and savage violence. The movie begins with three legendary actors riding in a car, they look to have been doing some partying. Then suddenly there is a noise and it turns out they have a body in the trunk, and the guy is still alive. Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro brutally finish him off and that is what sends Ray Liotta into a voice over about how he always wanted to be a mobster. I think this is the kind of film that really satisfies the latent desires we all have to look into the world of the bad guys. We see this kind of ferocity all of a sudden and somehow it makes sense that he says that line right at that moment.
This movie is based on a true story but like all movies based on a true story it has to be taken with a grain of salt. I have researched before how close this movie was to the truth but that was years ago. If I remember correctly it isn’t completely accurate but isn’t that far off either. What I found most compelling about that research was that Henry Hill, the character Ray Liotta plays, was still alive and not in hiding. Not only was he not in hiding but he was a regular guest on The Howard Stern radio show. Something about that crushed my ideas about the mob because not only had they done nothing to the traitor that sent so many to jail but he was bold enough to live out in the open with no repercussions. Henry Hill actually did die recently, of natural causes and I think that proves we all have unrealistic ideas about the power of the mafia. They are not super powerful or the threat that we like to think they are. If Henry Hill, who betrayed and then cashed in on his experiences in the mafia, can die of natural causes then what makes the mob any better than any other petty criminal? The truth is they aren’t, in reality they are just uneducated and often idiot men who gain their power through brutality and taking advantage of weaker people.
Joe Pesci won the Academy Award for his role in this movie beating out the likes of Al Pacino (nominated for Dick Tracy) and Andy Garcia (nominated for The Godfather III). I don’t think that he was actually aware he was going to win because he wasn’t prepared. Unless it has been broken now, he holds the record for the shortest acceptance speech for a winner of his award. All he said was “Thank you, it’s an honor” if I remember correctly. I think that was awesome though, I have always really liked Joe Pesci and the fact that he just took the award and walked off makes me like him even more. Pesci is a little guy but in all his mob movies he tends to be the most violent and dangerous one. He is savage in this movie, and possibly even more brutal in Casino. Yet he can still be so funny in a movie like Home Alone or My Cousin Vinny. Pesci played many memorable and awesome characters during his career but I have always wanted more of him. He is almost 70 years old now and doesn’t seem to be as interested in staying in the limelight as guys like Anthony Hopkins or Michael Caine. It’s unfortunate but we will always have his greatest movies like this one to enjoy.
I have never really been a big fan of Ray Liotta but he owns it in this movie. As Henry Hill he gave his greatest performance. He was the centerpiece of this movies standing next to much more notable actors like De Niro and Pesci but he holds up well and delivers. I love when he attacks the neighbor that came onto to his girlfriend. The ferocious way he beat the guys face in leaves quite an impression. I also love that in the very next scene Liotta and Bracco are getting married. Robert De Niro is great in this movie, outside of his role as Vito Corleone I think this is his best mobster part. De Niro has always been great though and it is really hard to pick and choose when discussing what was his best. In this movie De Niro is cool, ruthless, and unpredictable. He was great in this movie and he continues to be great as an actor even today. I also like Paul Sorvino in this film but little else he has done over his career has impressed me.
As with for the rest of the cast I think they were all great. I have also found it interesting how The Sopranos seemed to take so many of the supporting cast from this movie for their series. That starts with Lorraine Bracco who had the largest role of all of them in this film. She is great in this film and was incredible as Dr. Melfi. Showing a beauty that was ageless so many years later. Other Sopranos cast members from this movie include Paulie Walnuts, Big Pussy, Christopher Moltisanti, Larry Boy Barese, Phil Leotardo, and Carmela’s mother. Those are just the ones I noticed this time around and I’m sure there might be more. I think it says something about the influence this movie had on the genre that so many people from the film were used in the series though. Like many people, I was a huge fan of the HBO series and wish it had never ended.
This is an incredible movie and I can’t say enough about how much I love it. It made me fall in love with the mafia more than any other film before it. As a teen I was so entranced by the lifestyle they lived and at that juvenile age wanted to grow up and do the same thing. Those were foolish thoughts that fortunately I grew out of, but I imagine many people that see this movie feel the same way regardless of age. The really great movies leave a lasting impression on the people that watch them and I think this movie had that effect. It is a great movie that I recommend to anyone I meet who hasn’t seen it, which it rare. This one is worth your time but you don’t need me to tell you that, everyone else will tell you the same.
I remember the first time that Ryan made me watch this movie. I loved it then and I love it now. I think this movie is different from the regular cliche mobster movies. This one is told from the actual point of view of an actual ex mobster. When you know that already going in it makes the movie a lot more interesting. I am sure that Ryan wrote all about the movie’s intricate details so I will go ahead and skip to the design.
This is an image of the DVD cover. I have to admit that I am not crazy about this. I do like the three main actors on the front and how the stark values and shadows allow them to fade into the black background. I feel like this should have taken up the entire front. Instead, there is the bottom of the cover where someone is lying dead under the bridge. I think they were trying to hard to show too much. I know what they were trying to do, but it doesn’t work for me. I do love the typography. I think it works for the movie.
NEXT MOVIE: The Goonies (1985)