Martin Scorsese has directed so many of the greatest movies ever made – Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, the list goes on – that naming just one film as his masterpiece is nearly impossible. But one title that comes up a lot in these discussions is 1990’s Goodfellashis biopic of mafioso Henry Hill.
If it’s not his finest film, Goodfellas certainly exhibits the most hallmarks of Scorsese’s signature filmmaking style. From voiceover narration to soundtrack needle-drops to pitch-black humor, Goodfellas has a bunch of the tropes and trademarks that define Scorsese’s directorial style.
10 Voiceover Narration
Going back to Mean StreetsScorsese has frequently used voiceover narration in his cinematic storytelling. Taxi Driver uses narrated diary entries to chronicle Travis Bickle’s worsening mental state.
In Goodfellas, Scorsese uses Ray Liotta’s voiceover to explain all the complicated inner workings of the mafia. He later utilized the same technique in fellow mob epics Casino and The Irishman.
9 Needle-Drops On The Soundtrack
Like Quentin Tarantino and Wes Anderson, Scorsese is famed for including breathtaking needle-drops on the soundtracks of his movies. In GoodfellasTony Bennett’s “Rags to Riches” plays over the opening titles and the Crystals’ “Then He Kissed Me” plays over the Copacabana tracking shot.
Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love” plays when Jimmy realizes he could kill all his cohorts from the Lufthansa heist and keep the loot for himself. There are a bunch of great musical moments in Goodfellas.
8 True Story
Although there are a few examples, from After Hours to The Department, Scorsese rarely tells fictional stories. The genre that he’s most associated with – besides gangster movies – is biopics.
Scorsese has used the power of cinema to tell the life stories of Howard Hughes, the 14th Dalai Lama, boxer Jake LaMotta, mob hitman Frank Sheeran, even Jesus Christ, and indeed Henry Hill.
7 Dark Humor
Only a couple of Scorsese’s movies are full-blown comedies, but they almost all have a pitch-black sense of humor. His movies feature all kinds of dark laughs, from Johnny Boy blowing up a mailbox in Mean Streets to Jordan Belfort tripping on expired Quaaludes in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Goodfellas has a ton of Scorsese’s signature dark humor – mostly thanks to Joe Pesci’s quintessential hothead turn as Tommy DeVito. Tommy shoots Spider the bartender in the foot during a heated prank, and as they dig up Billy Batts’ decomposing corpse and Henry gets squeamish, Tommy cracks a couple of twisted jokes: “What do you like, the leg or the wing? Or you still go for the old hearts and lungs?”
Scorsese doesn’t always make movies about gangsters – The Wolf of Wall Street is about stockbrokers, Silence is about Catholic missionaries, and Hugo is about a train station – but most of them are about gangsters.
Goodfellas is one of Scorsese’s sharpest, most intimate portraits of mafia life. Real-life mobsters have praised the realism of Goodfellasclaiming that it plays like their own home movies.
5 Freeze Frames
As energetic as Scorsese’s filmmaking is, he also uses a lot of freeze frames to capture snapshots of certain moments. Freeze frames can be seen in the opening credits of The King of Comedy and the wildest Stratton Oakmont office party in The Wolf of Wall Street.
Scorsese used a bunch of freeze frames in Goodfellas, starting with Henry looking down at Billy Batts’ blood-soaked corpse as his voiceover announces, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.” Freeze frames can later be seen when Henry’s father hits him with a belt for skipping school and after Henry blows up a bunch of cars for the mob.
4 New York
Scorsese has made movies set in Boston, Paris, the Japanese village of Tomogi, and a mental institution on a remote island, but the majority of his films take place in his hometown of New York. Three of his movies even have “New York” in the title.
Mean Streets is set in Little Italy, Raging Bull is set in the Bronx, The Wolf of Wall Street is set on Wall Street (obviously), and Goodfellas is set in a working-class Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn.
3 Regular Scorsese Collaborators
One of the most recognizable traits of Scorsese’s movies is his use of recurring actors. His regular company of actors includes A-listers like Leonardo DiCaprio and lesser-known performers like Victor Argo.
A bunch of Scorsese’s frequent collaborators appear in Goodfellas: Robert De Niro, his go-to leading man, plays Jimmy Conway; Joe Pesci plays Tommy DeVito; Frank Vincent plays Billy Batts; and the director’s own mother, Catherine Scorsese, makes a cameo appearance as Tommy’s mother.
2 Long Tracking Shots
Scorsese is renowned for his use of long tracking shots. The Irishman opens with a long tracking shot through Frank Sheeran’s nursing home. The Wolf of Wall Street has countless oners swooping through the offices of Stratton Oakmont. Goodfellas has a few of these trademark tracking shots.
There’s one in the courtroom scene, one when Henry confronts Karen’s aggressive neighbor and pistol-whips him in his driveway, and one when Henry takes Karen through the back of the Copacabana. The Copa oner is easily the most iconic tracking shot in the movie (and maybe of all time).
Very few Scorsese movies feature a traditionally likable, ethical protagonist. From Travis Bickle to Jake LaMotta to Frank Sheeran, they almost all walk the fine line between hero and villain. Goodfellas‘ Henry Hill is a prime example of a complicated Scorsese antihero.
He has some sympathetic qualities – he’s not cut out for mob life and can’t stomach the dirty work – but he also has a lot of unsympathetic qualities: he’s a negligent father, an unfaithful, abusive husband, and he suffers from serious rage problems . Like many Scorsese antiheroes, Henry causes his own downfall when he gets into the drug trade against his mentor’s wishes and ends up getting high on his own supply.
NEXT: 10 Tarantino Trademarks In Pulp Fiction
10 Biggest Jaw Dropping Betrayals in the MCU (So Far)
About The Author