From Nicholas Pileggi’s true-life bestseller Wiseguy, GoodFellas explores the criminal life like no other movie. Directed and co-written by Martin Scorsese, it was judged 1990’s Best Picture by the New York, Los Angeles and National Society of Film Critics. Electrifying performances abound and from a standout cast that includes Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco and Paul Sorvino, Joe Pesci walked off with the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award.
Goodfellas shows Scorsese to be a master of pacing, as it’s a film that briskly covers a vast amount of time, but does so while letting its scenes play out to their greatest effect. It’s the sense of years passing and people changing, all while the presence of the mob stays constant, that gives us an intimate look into the life of Henry and Karen Hill, the real-life characters the film is based on.
Goodfellas has a grand sweep to it that makes it seem in some ways the greatest achievement of Scorsese’s career. While it doesn’t quite achieve that level for me, there’s no denying what a remarkable film it is.
Warner Brothers releases the Blu-ray of Goodfellas with some extras thrown in to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the film. The film is presented in 1080p high definition with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. One could speculate on why the visual presentation here is fairly underwhelming, but it’s quite possible that the disc — produced in the early days of Blu-ray, before the format wars had ended — didn’t benefit from the technical knowledge that tends to produce sparkling high def catalog releases almost every time these days.
If you don’t already own Goodfellas on Blu-ray, this 20th Anniversary Edition is the one to go with since its packaging is more attractive than the 2007 release and it contains a high-quality documentary about the gangster genre.
- Cast and Crew Audio Commentary – Director Martin Scorsese, author/screenwriter Nicolas Pileggi, producers Irwin Winkler and Barbara De Fina, cinematographer Michael Ballhaus, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and cast members Ray Liotta, Lorraine Bracco, Paul Sorvino and Frank Vincent all participate in this recorded-separately-and-spliced-together-style commentary track. Very insightful, and due to the style in which it was pieced together, always moving and jumping around from voice to voice and story to story, this is absolutely worth listening to. Scorsese’s comments are especially interesting, as you would expect.
- Cop and Crook Audio Commentary – The second commentary features the real Henry Hill and FBI agent Edward McDonald. This is especially interesting for the real-life comparisons Hill relates. McDonald actually does a great job of asking questions and keeping the conversation going.
- Getting Made (29:36) – This is the standard making-of for the film. Interviews with cast and crew highlight the production, with lots of emphasis put on character building and editing.
- Made Men: The Goodfellas Legacy (13:33) – This shorter piece is more of a tribute, as a younger generation of filmmakers (e.g. Jon Favreau, Richard Linklater) discuss the impact of Goodfellas on their career and life.
- Paper is Cheaper Than Film (4:27) – This is a presentation of Scorsese’s drawn storyboards and written notations, alongside clips of the film. ” The Workaday Gangster (7:58) – The final featurette in this set is a discussion on the lifestyle of the mob. Constantly working, the real-life wiseguys were always on the ready…
- Theatrical Trailer (1:28)
- Public Enemies: The Golden Age of the Gangster Film (105:43) – This feature-length documentary from 2008 is incredibly detailed and exhaustive! While it starts and ends great, you may get a bit lost in the middle. This piece does a serious break-down of the gangster genre in Hollywood, starting with Burglar on the Roof from 1898 (that’s not a typo) and ending with The Departed . The heaviest concentration focuses, as the title indicates, on the golden era of the genre, which is considered to be the 1930’s. There are great interviews with film historians and critics, authors and filmmakers. There is also great use of vintage interviews from the filmmakers and stars of the golden era, plus clips of those films (even silent era stuff!). This is a great piece for anyone who has an interest in film history. Though it may get dry in the middle there, it’s still absolutely worth watching on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
- Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes (30:39) – There are four Friz Freleng cartoons here. “I Like Mountain Music” is from 1933 and in black and white; “She Was an Acrobat’s Daughter” is from 1937 and in color. These first two are hard to watch and have nothing to do with gangsters. There are obviously way better choices in the catalogue and I am not sure why they were chosen for inclusion here. But then “Racketeer Rabbit” (1946) and “Bugs and Thugs” (1954) come on and all is forgiven. Both of these are classics, staring the infamous rabbit and some bumbling gangsters.