Goodfellas


As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster

From Goodfellas 1990

Goodfellas is one of the best all time crime drama movies directed by Martin Scorsese. This movie sports and all star cast with such notables as Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Brocco, Paul Sorvino, and even Frank Sivero. Many people thought that the Godfather series would go down in history as the best Mafia mob boss movie, but then Goodfella’s came along and breathed new life into the genre in 1990. The film won the best Oscar for Best Actor in a Supporting Role on the strength of Joe Pesci’s acting. In addition, it was also nominated for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best Director, Best Film Editing, Best Picture, and Best Writing: Screenplay.

The picture is about the story of Henry Hill and a group of his friends as they work their way up the mob hierarchy. Henry Hill is a local boy turned gangster in one of the poorer parts of New York. Tommy Devito is Henry’s best friend and partner in crime as the two continue to win the favor of Jimmy Conway as they pull off some of the most successful robberies that the town had ever experienced. Eventually though Henry is caught, and sentenced to an extended jail sentence. Upon his release, he is forced to sneak around the back of the local mob boss, Paulie Cicero, in order to make enough money to live the life of luxury to which he is accustomed.

In the end, Henry is again arrested for drugs and he becomes convinced that he has been marked for death by his mob counterparts. This leads him to become an informant for the FBI in exchange for the opportunity to disappear into anonymity and hopefully save his own life and that of his family. The entire film is a huge roller coaster of the ups and downs associated with the professional crime syndicate.

The film is a brilliant portrayal of the rise of a blue collar man as he makes his way from young petty criminal, to big-time thief, to middle-aged cocaine addict and dealer, and ultimately to FBI snitch and informant in hiding. The film shows the darker sides of the mob system and the accompanying paranoia that surrounds someone who can never fully trust those around him. You never know when your number is up and instead of being given the target, you become the target.

Henry Hill admits, "As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster." As a boy, Henry idolized the Lucchese crime family gangsters in his blue-collar, predominantly Italian neighborhood in East New York, Brooklyn, and quit school and went to work for them. The local mob capo, Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) (based on the actual Lucchese mobster Paul Vario) and Cicero's close associate Jimmy Conway (De Niro) (based on Jimmy Burke) help cultivate Henry's criminal career.

As adults, Henry and his associate Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci in his Academy Award-winning performance) conspire with Conway to steal some of the billions of dollars of cargo passing through Idlewild Airport (now known as JFK International Airport). They help out in a key heist, stealing over half a million dollars from the Air France cargo terminal. The robbery helps Henry gain more of Cicero's trust. However, because Henry is half-Irish, he knows he can never become a "made man", a full member of the crime family. Nor can Jimmy Conway, who is also Irish.

Henry's friends become increasingly daring and dangerous. Conway loves hijacking trucks, and Tommy has an explosive temper and a psychotic need to prove himself through violence. At one point, he humiliates an innocent and unarmed young waiter "Spider" (played by an unknown Michael Imperioli), asking Spider to dance à la The Oklahoma Kid then shooting him in the foot. Later, when Spider stands up to Tommy, Tommy suddenly draws his gun and shoots Spider in the chest, killing him instantly.

Henry also meets and falls in love with Karen (Lorraine Bracco), a no-nonsense young Jewish woman who was a help desk manager; they go to the Copacabana club two to three times a week (the film depicts this in a famous steadicam shot). Karen feels uneasy with her boyfriend's career, but is also "turned on" by it. Henry and Karen eventually marry.

The film closes with a few title cards what became of Hill, Paul Cicero (Vario) and Jimmy Conway (Burke). Henry's marriage to Karen ended in separation with her getting custody of their children, and Cicero and Conway will practically spend the rest of their lives in prison. Cicero died in 1988. Conway's title card explains that he was eligible for parole in 2004, though he died in prison in 1996.

Goodfellas is a film that exposes the other side of mafia world. Generally people are under illusion that life in such close-knit communities is quite comfortable, especially with monies that come from crime. But it is not always so. The story revolves around Henry Hill portrayed by Ray Liotta. Ray lives in Eastern New York. This part of the United States has historically been the stronghold of mafia. Since 1930’s the area was divided between five mafia families and they lived in reasonable harmony settling their scores without outsider intervention.

Henry was basically Irish American, and mafia groups mostly consisted of Italian Americans. But Henry had intense desire to be part of such a group since the days he was young. His father was not pleased but could do nothing when he learnt that his son was no longer attending school. Instead Henry joined the members of Lucchese family and worked along with them from 1955. After growing slightly older, he came under Paulie (portrayed by Paul Sorvino), and his two close buddies, Jimmy (portrayed by Robert de Niro), and Tommy (portrayed by Joe Pesci). Jimmy "The Gent" Conway’s line of activity was heist, and he focused at trucks back in 1967. Tommy DeVito looked after armed robbery. Tommy was also extremely short tempered. But Henry knew that all he had to do was not scam fellow members of family, and not reveal truth. So he got along quite well with both these people. This is the reason he was included in the Air France heist in 1967. It was first such assignment that mafia had allowed him in. He received decent share of course. Karen came into Henry’s life about then. She was a Jewish girl, and soon the two got married. The violent life of mafia group member was not what Karen had bargained for, but she accepted it readily when it was used to avenge her pride. The camaraderie between Henry, Tommy, and Jimmy continued even when Tommy made a blunder of killing Billy Batts, a blue eyed boy of Gambino family. When the three realized that killing Batts was a mistake they pushed him in a car and buried it far away from the city. Tommy eventually paid the price with his life for this 1970 incident

Henry also developed a relationship with Janice Rossi, which became a bone of contention between him and Karen. But the stress of the kind of work started to get to him. Meanwhile, Paulie’s next assignment to Henry and Jimmy was collection of debt from a gambler who was based in Florida. The two went there, and resorted to beating, when the sister of the gambler called the authorities. Henry and Jimmy had to spend sometime in prison. Even there, Henry sold drugs to inmates, and earned monies, with which he supported his family. In 1978, Henry came out of prison. This time the group planned a Lufthansa heist. But this time, Jimmy was not as willing to share the profits. Henry continued to sell drugs, and became a cocaine addict. A little later, the Gambino family got even with Tommy for killing Billy Batts. Now, all alone, drugs became the only source of revenue for Henry. Narcotics officials soon caught up with him, and he found himself behind the bars once more in the 1980s.

On his release, Karen told him that she’d washed down cocaine that must have been worth $60000 to prevent FBI from finding it. This meant, Henry became virtually penniless. He approached Paulie, who offered him only $3,200. Disillusioned with the offer, Henry refused it. At this, Jimmy offered to start another heist. Henry refused to participate in that as well. He decided to become prosecution witness at that stage, and seek witness protection. So in 1987 Henry testified against his former team mates, leading to arrest of Paulie, and Jimmy. Both of them died in prison

Goodfellas is about mafia life from the inside. It shows the mafia wars as they existed in and around 1990, i.e., the year this film was make. New York and its surrounding areas continued to be under control of five mafia families; each had its own territory for crimes. Most of the members in these gangs were Italian Americans who drove cc devilles like classic cars, though there could be other associates also who qualified. They shared a strong sense of loyalty to people within their group, i.e., friends and family, and simultaneously abided by unwritten laws of the mafia groups to the extent those applied to them. .

Life of mafia members is never predictable, as they are into unlawful activities. Therefore, they live in high style, and are held in awe by the youngsters. Henry Hill (played by Ray Liotta) was one such youngster who was enamored by Lucchese family. He aspired to be a gangster from the very childhood. In no time, he left school, to join these gangsters. His Irish American father tried to prevent his entry into mafia world, but could not. That was back in 1955. Henry learnt that fellow members from any mafia group were not to be exploited, and he also had to keep quiet even if he knew the truth. These principles were not very difficult to follow. Henry became Paulie’s or Paul Cicero’s (played by Paul Sorvino) protégé. Soon Henry’s contacts included Paulie’s other associates, primarily Tommy DeVito (played by Joe Pesci), and Jimmy or “The Gent” Conway (played by Robert de Niro). Tommy specialized in armed robberies, and Jimmy had a passion for hijacking trucks. Towards the end of 1967 Henry did his first job as a gangster; the Air France Robbery. The mission was successful, and Henry got hefty commission, which allowed him to maintain high standard lifestyle. Henry fell in love with Karen, a Jewish girl, and got married to her. Initially, Karen found mafia world not to her tastes, but when Henry beat up a neighbor who was showering undesired attentions on her, she felt a sense of satisfaction with the way the matter was resolved.

In the June of 1970, hot-tempered Tommy beat up Billy Batts, and Jimmy helped with the act. In process, Batts died. It was only after his death that Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry came to know that Batts was a special person from Gambino family. If the truth were revealed, it could mean gang war, and therefore, they packed Batts’ body in Henry’s car, and buried the car outside the limits of the mafia territory. When they learnt that some development project was coming up in the area where the car was buried, they pulled out the car, and buried it elsewhere. Around this period, Henry got a mistress, and Karen was not too happy with it. They started having differences. Henry’s next assignment was collecting some debt from a gambler who lived in Florida. Jimmy accompanied him, and they beat up the gambler, prompting the gambler’s sister, who worked for FBI as a typist to complain against them. Henry and Jimmy were sentenced to a prison term. During this period, Henry sustained his family by selling drugs in the prison.

After being released in 1978, Henry took part in the Lufthansa heist. Jimmy, however, was not keen to share the loot from Lufthansa heist creating rifts in the group. Tommy was trapped by Gambino family, and killed to avenge the death of Batts. Henry continued as a drug peddler, but his own addiction to cocaine started affecting his thinking. In the process, narcotics officers trapped him. He had stashed about $60000 worth cocaine. But Karen flushed it down the drain to prevent FBI finding it. This meant there was no money to live on after Henry’s return from prison! Paulie thought $3,200 was a good enough for Henry’s services. Henry was unhappy with the offer and rejected it outright. Jimmy suggested that they go for another heist, this time in Florida, but Henry refused that as well. Instead he joined a witness protection program, and exposed Jimmy, Tommy, and Paulie. Paulie and Jimmy died in prison.

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