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Film Review: GoodFellas

Updated on December 16, 2016
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Jason Wheeler is the Senior Writer and Editor at Film Frenzy. He reviews films from across the cinematic landscape.


In 1990, Martin Scorsese released GoodFellas, based on the 1986 non-fication book, Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi. Starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco, and Paul Sorvino, the film grossed $46.8 million at the box office.


When New York City gangster, Henry Hill becomes inducted into the Lucchese crime family, he moves up the ranks with his boss, Jimmy Conway and his best friend, Tommy DeVito. At the same time, he's living through a rocky marriage with his wife, Karen.


Noted as the highest point of Scorsese's career, GoodFellas is a great film that delivers a complex and mixed message about the criminal life. On one hand, Henry got into the life because he saw how great it was being a gangster. Ther perks certainly aren’t glossed over either. It shows the treatment members of the family are given and how all they need to do in order to get anything they want is just make a quick phone call. Even when they go to jail, they live and eat like princes. In the end, as Henry is fingering the family in order to be put in Witness Protection, he laments that the life is all over and he’s going to have to live the life of a regular person, or as he calls it: the life of a schnook. He even implies that the only thing he regrets is getting caught. On the other hand though, it does show that a criminal life and being evil, while having its perks, really isn't all that great. Murder is so common that conditions had to be made before someone is considered expendable. Further, at any time the feds can come crashing in and that life full of perks can just end. When Henry is busted, everyone cuts ties with them out of fear that they’ll be ratted out and Paulie gives him a terrible “severance” package after his service. It turns out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy too as the treatment is what drives Henry to rat them out.

The characters are also quite interesting. Henry may be a lifelong criminal and a terrible person, but her personal line he won’t cross is murdering people and is disturbed at what Tommy and Jimmy do to Billy Batts. There’s also his wife, who admits that she should have run screaming when Henry gave her a gun to hide, but was turned on because of the danger. She also treats the police with kindness whenever they come and search her home. The head of the family, Paulie, may be the head of a crime family, but he’s not stupid, seen in his aversion to phone calls. It highlights how he’s cautious about conspiracy charges and wiretapping. He also makes Henry into a monogamous guy. Yet, the best character in this film isn’t even the main character. It’s Tommy, who is an insanely trigger happy sociopath that pretty much murders anyone who looks at him the wrong way. He’s self-aware about himself too and freaks Henry out when he likes a story Tommy’s telling and say’s he’s a funny guy. That temper is also what brings him down. He’s just going around killing people with no second thoughts to tie up loose ends when he kills a made man without permission. While he was already considered a problem, this becomes the final straw that Paulie realizes he’s more of a danger to the family than a benefit and he gets whacked for it.

The film has some good technical and production aspects as well, such as the famous three minute shot tracking Henry and Karen through the rear entrance of the Copacabana. The narration of the film is fascinating too, which is shown to be Henry’s testimony at the trial where he rats on everyone. It does switch to Karen’s narration at times, which makes sense as those are the times she’s on the stand.

5 stars for GoodFellas

the postings on this site are my own and don't necessarily represent WNI's positions, strategies or opinion

Awards won

Academy Awards

  • Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Joe Pesci)

BAFTA Awards

  • Best Screenplay - Adapted
  • Best Costume Design
  • Best Direction
  • Best Editing
  • Best Film

Bodil Awards

  • Best Non-European Film

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Best Director

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Lorraine Bracco)
  • Best Director
  • Best Screenplay

Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Second Place - Best Picture
  • Second Place - Best Director
  • Second Place - Best Screenplay

Fotogramas de Plata Awards

  • Best Foreign Film

Kansas City Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Best Director

Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Best Supporting Actress (Lorraine Bracco)
  • Best Director
  • Best Cinematography

National Board of Review, USA Awards

  • Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Top Ten Films

National Film Preservation Board, USA

  • National Film Registry

National Society of Film Critics Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Director
  • Second Place - Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Third Place - Best Actor (Robert De Niro)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards

  • Best film
  • Best Director
  • Best Actor (Robert De Niro)
  • Second Place - Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci)
  • Second Place - Best Cinematographer
  • Third Place - Best Supporting Actress (Lorraine Bracco)

Online Film & Television Association Awards

  • OFTA Film Hall of Fame - Motion Picture

Society of Camera Operators

  • Historical Shot

Venice Film Festival Awards

  • Audience Award
  • Filmcritica "Bastone Bianco" Award
  • Silver Lion - Best Director

Nominated for

Academy Awards

  • Best Picture
  • Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Lorraine Bracco)
  • Best Director
  • Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium
  • Best Film Editing

Golden Globe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture - Drama
  • Best Director - Motion Picture
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Lorraine Bracco)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Joe Pesci)
  • Best Screenplay - Motion Picture

BAFTA Awards

  • Best Film
  • Best Actor (Robert De Niro)
  • Best Cinematography

American Cinema Editors, USA Eddie Awards

  • Best Edited Feature Film

British Society of Cinematographers Awards

  • Best Cinematography Award

Chicago Film Critics Association Awards

  • Best Actor (Ray Liotta)
  • Best Cinematography

Cesar Awards

  • Best Foreign Film

David di Donatello Awards

  • Best Foreign Actor
  • Best Foreign Film

Directors Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures

Edgar Allan Poe Awards

  • Best Motion Picture

Italian National Syndicate of Film Journalist Silver Ribbon Awards

  • Best Foreign Director

PGA AWards

  • Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures

USC Scripter Awards

  • USC Scripter Award

Venice Film Festival Awards

  • Golden Lion

Village Voice Film Poll

  • Best Film of the Decade

Writers Guild of America, USA Awards

  • Best Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium


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