Sure, it’s a rush – but is that enough? ‘Goodfellas’ is often heralded as Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece, and there’s no ignoring the full-throttle intensity and bravura visual style that underpin the real-life tale of small-time gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) as he rises and falls through the ranks of the New York mob. It’s a film of perfect moments: Henry’s ‘As long as I can remember’ voiceover at the start; a breathtaking tracking shot through the back rooms of a nightclub; Joe Pesci’s unforgettable ‘How the fuck am I funny?’ routine.
But it’s hard to shake the feeling that, rather like its characters, ‘Goodfellas’ lacks heart. This is a story of awful creeps and the women who love them, so it was never going to be a festival of feelgood. But the sinuous coldness of the camerawork, the viciousness of the violence and the depth of the degradation all make it easy to admire, but hard to really love. In ‘Mean Streets’ and even ‘Taxi Driver’, Scorsese made his loser heroes relatable. In ‘Goodfellas’, they’re just a bunch of well-dressed dirty rats.