Goodfellas Background

Goodfellas Background

Goodfellas was released in 1990 and is the Scorsese-directed classic mobster movie based on the life of a gangster called Henry Hill. The film was developed by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, author of the book Wiseguy and written with the assistance of Hill himself. In speaking with a writer and breaking the Mob's code of silence, Hill put himself in considerable jeopardy and some of the main players' names were changed as a protection mechanism, although they were not changed much and their identities were easily guessed. Pileggi was familiar with the process of having a book he had written adapted for the big screen; his biography of his own mother's family, "Eleni", documented her bravery during the Greek civil war and was adapted into an award winning film starring John Malkovich. Although Martin Scorsese had vowed not to make any more gangster movies, he was so taken with "Wiseguy" that he called Pileggi out of the blue and told him that he had been waiting for the book his entire life; Pileggi's reply was that he had been waiting his whole life for that 'phone call. Scorsese and Pileggi collaborated on the screenplay, with Scorsese choosing the scenes from the book that he wanted to include. They received Oscar nominations for the writing but much of the dialogue credit belongs to the actors who improvised many of the scenes. The improvised screenplay is also notable for the number of f-bombs dropped; although the actual script called for it to be used seventy times, improvisation added over two hundred more usages and the final tally was three hundred and twenty one, at the time of release giving the film the dubious honor of being the most profanity-peppered film in history (it has slipped since to a lowly twelfth).

Main character Henry Hill's only goal in life since he could remember was to be a gangster, and as a child had hung around known mobsters in an effort to ingratiate himself with Lucchese family Boss Paul Vario and his fixer Wiseguy Jimmy Burke. Although his strategy pays off and he becomes a trusted and high-ranking member of Vario's team he is never a "made" guy because his heritage is not one hundred per cent Italian. Ray Liotta's performance as Henry was true to character even though the two men never met until filming had finished. Liotta's performance was exceptionally violent as he directed his anger over the death of his mother during filming into the more murderous scenes. Hill did, however, have regular contact with Robert De Niro who would call him multiple times a day to ask about the small idiosyncrasies in Jimmy Burke's character to make sure that he was portraying him accurately. Jimmy's last name was changed to Conway in the film. The role was offered to Al Pacino first but he turned it down as he didn't want to get typecast as a Mafia boss, a decision he later admitted was one of the worst decisions of his career.

One of the factors giving the film more authenticity was the use of real-life mobsters as extras. The character of "Fat Andy" was played by Louis Eppolito, an ex-cop whose family had Mafia ties, and who was arrested in 2005 on racketeering and eight murder charges. Because of the violence the film received the worst preview response in the studio's history but went on to be a box office hit and a critical sensation. The film was nominated for six Academy Awards, winning three; Lorraine Bracco (Best Supporting Actress in a role that Led her to be cast in The Sopranos), Joe Pesci (Best Supporting Actor) and Irving Winkler (Best Picture).

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