Henry Hill died peacefully the day after his 69th birthday. He was associated with the Lucchese crime family, who became an FBI informant after becoming the most loyal customer in the cocaine business. He was a lucky fellow, as death during sleep was a luxury that even the wealthiest mob bosses couldn't afford during their lifetime.
Martin Scorsese, who knew New York's underbelly well enough, adapted Hill's story to the big screen. The pacing picked up right after the opening scene, as the filmmaker didn't let the moviegoers slowed down. There was manic energy, bordering on madness. The audience couldn't resist it, as Scorsese took them on a wild ride. How good was "Goodfellas"? Television became the medium for producers who wanted to imitate it, but Scorsese had a few aces on his sleeve. It had nothing to do with his Italian background, even his familiarity with Italian-Americans in the Big Apple. The depiction of Henry Hill's life might have been a copycat of "The Godfather", but Scorsese wasn't interested in the family drama. He shared a few secrets about the mob.
Henry Hill's case showed that loyalty wasn't a virtue among a clan of mobsters. Money could bring out the worst out of anyone, and in this case, it turned the mobsters into a greedy bunch. Nothing would be enough, even the drugs. It was each man for himself, as Hill did (to save his life). And there could be dignity somewhere. The last one seemed hard to believe, but Hill's mistreated wife was a fine example.
Ray Liotta played Hill, which could be his finest hour. He was recalling the days when he aspired to be part of the inner circle (in the Lucchese family), and how it turned into a downward spiral for him and his wife. The narration was probably the best thing about this film, as Liotta's gravelly voice hooked the viewers right away. His recollection was like a walk on memory lane, but there was something else. The same voice could puncture someone's conscience, even gave warning for those who were about to be intoxicated by his lifestyle. Roberto De Niro played James Conway, who was believed to be the mastermind behind the 1978 Lufthansa heist. He was the Irish-American gangster who had links with the Lucchese family, another compelling presence in this mad journey. De Niro could have received another Academy Award nomination, being one of the top actors of his time. But Joe Pesci stole the show. The diminutive actor played Tommy DeVito, who seemed to be mentally unhinged all his life. Perhaps this would be the other type of mobster, who wasn't thinking of making it to old age.
Lorraine Bracco's portrayal of Karen Hill would give this film a conscience. It may be pretentious in most cases, but Scorsese was hinting at something. Honesty won't win friends, and the mob liked anything but the truth. It could be the effects of cocaine, not to mention the compromising (and amoral stance on anything, everything). Let's not get too far, though. (This won't be the flip side of the American Dream.) Henry Hill would owe his (soon-to-be) ex-wife a big favor, as turning a new page rewarded him with something he didn't found in the Lucchese household. It would be self-esteem and the virtues of honest living.