"As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster."
Martin Scorsese's famous 1990 film, based on the book Wiseguy by Nicholas Pileggi, which followed the story of New York City gangster Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) from his induction into the Lucchese crime family in the 1950s to his downfall and entry into the Witness Protection Program in the 1980s. Along with Henry, the film follows Henry's boss Jimmy Conway (Robert De Niro), his best friend Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), and his wife Karen (Lorraine Bracco). The film details Henry's moving up the ranks, his eventual imprisonment, his role in (at the time) the largest heist in American history, and his involvement with the cocaine trade (which eventually gets him arrested by narcotics officers and shunned by the Mob). As the ground crumbles around him, he turns to the Feds for protection, eventually having to "live the rest of [his] life like a shnook".
The movie became famous for several reasons, including a long tracking shot through the kitchen of the Copacabana; the montage near the end showing Henry's increasing drug-induced paranoia as he tries to run some guns, get a drug shipment off to Pittsburgh, and make dinner for his family; and Tommy's profanity-laden dialogue and Hair-Trigger Temper, which threatened to make Joe Pesci typecast for some time -- and won him the Best Supporting Actor Oscar. The movie itself ended up losing Best Picture to Dances with Wolves. The movie was selected for the National Film Registry in 2000.
Goodfellas was followed by Casino, based on the book of the same name (also by Nicholas Pileggi), which also featured De Niro (who 'fagocitated' Liotta's role in becoming the center of the movie's romantic subplot) and Pesci (still the same sort of vicious, cynical character- though, it should be noted, both guys he played really existed, and he played them pretty faithfully).
- Adaptation Distillation: Joe Pesci's character, Tommy DeVito, is based on two real-life people: Tommy DeSimone, a violent member of the Vario organization, and Paul Vario Jr., Paulie's son. Specifically Tommy stands in for Paul Jr. when Henry meets him as a child, and during the double date with Karen. Practically everything else Tommy does is based on DeSimone.
- Affably Evil:
- Most of the mob is like this when Henry is barely a teenager. Everyone from Paulie and Jimmy on down are all smiles and sunshine. But then the body count grows and the broken deals start piling up...
- Tommy, when he realizes too late he's gotta answer for what he did to Billy Batts...
- Age Lift: Joe Pesci was 46 at the time of filming. Thomas DeSimone, who Tommy DeVito is based on, was in his teens and twenties at the time of the events in the movie, being murdered in 1979 at age 28.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: Henry pistol-whips the guy who gropes Karen, then gives her the gun to hide, and she confesses in voiceover "I gotta admit - It turned me on."
- Alliterative Name: Henry Hill. Jimmy "the Gent".
- And Now for Someone Completely Different: For a few minutes, the film gives Karen narration duties.
- Asshole Victim: Tommy DeVito.
- Ax Crazy: Tommy, which was basically Truth in Television.
- The Bad Guy Wins: Averted. Of course, the bad guys are the main characters.
- Bare Your Midriff: When the police are breaking down the door at Henry's house, we briefly see Lorraine Bracco's belly, as she hides a gun in her panties.
- Berserk Button: Bringing up Tommy De Vito's humiliating past as a shoe-shine boy. He doesn't need much of an excuse to go berserk, but this is one easy way to do it.
- Big Applesauce: All of the movie was shot in (and takes place in) New York City and environs. In a twist, we barely see the stereotypical Manhattan sights as most of the movie's action happens in Queens near JFK Airport.
- Big Bad Duumvirate: Jimmy and Tommy are personally responsible for much of the conflict here.
- Black and Gray Morality: It's a movie about gangsters, what did you expect?
- Black Comedy
- Black Dude Dies First: The black driver who participated in the Lufthansa heist -- and screws it up -- is the first to get whacked to keep him quiet.
- Boom! Headshot!:
- Tommy, to Stacks: "You're always fuckin' late. You'll be late for your own fuckin' funeral."
- Then, later, Tommy.
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: At the end during the trial, Henry Hill begins speaking to the camera, lamenting not only betraying his mentors but lamenting the end of his mafia lifestyle.
Henry Anything I wanted was a phone call away. Free cars. The keys to a dozen hideout flats all over the city. I bet twenty, thirty grand over a weekend and then I'd either blow the winnings in a week or go to the sharks to pay back the bookies. (gets up from the witness stand) Didn't matter. It didn't mean anything. When I was broke, I'd go out and rob some more. We ran everything. We paid off cops. We paid off lawyers. We paid off judges. Everybody had their hands out. Everything was for the taking. And now it's all over...
- Brick Joke: As a means to reassure Karen, Henry remarks that wise guys only go to jail to get away from their wives, by getting caught on purpose. Later on after Henry's affair blew up in his face, he's advised by Paulie and Jimmy to go take an extortion job in Florida to relax and go back to Karen. Instead, while working the job, Henry gets caught when the person they roughed up for the money, had a sister that was a typist for the FBI. YMMV on whether or not Paulie knew that so Henry could get caught, but it seems that way since he put himself in jail for contempt so he could watch Henry.
- Broken Pedestal: While Henry doesn't expect much help from Paulie, he still bitterly laments the meager 'severance pay' he is given after a lifetime of service and tutelage.
- Brooklyn Rage: Especially Tommy.
- Bullet Dancing: Tommy vs Spider. Subverted.
- The Cameo: Assistant U.S. Attorney Ed Mcdonald, As Himself; the prosecutor who handled Henry Hill and sponsored him into witness protection.
- Cluster F-Bomb: Tommy, in what became a career-defining role (to some people) for Joe Pesci. Henry's narration is also filled with plenty of F-bombs.
- Conspicuous Consumption / Suspicious Spending: After a big heist Jimmy is appalled when some of his accomplices show up with incredibly expensive purchases that would logically suggest newly acquired wealth. Jimmy had explicitly warned them to lay low to avoid the implication and the trope.
- Contrived Coincidence: The Goodfellas get pinched after strong-arming a man whose sister happens to work as a typist for the FBI. Lampshaded by the narration.
- Conveniently Cellmates: Henry shares the same prison accommodation as his gangster pals. This is Truth in Television for them and many other organized crime figures at the time, usually achieved through corrupt prison staff.
- Crazy Jealous Guy: Tommy is seen telling his girlfriend not to talk to any men while he goes to the other side of the room, and she comments that he gets so jealous he would kill her for looking at anyone else.
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster!: The film pulls no punches at showing the dizzying highs as well as the horrible lows of the gangster lifestyle.
- Deconstruction: Of the gangster film. It didn't take.
- Do Not Do This Cool Thing: Despite the fact that the movie deconstructs many standard gangster film tropes and has something of a Downer Ending, it's still considered one of the coolest depictions of the Mafia ever put on film - by members of the Mafia themselves, even. The gangster that DeNiro's character was based on was reportedly thrilled such a great actor was portraying him, and kept trying to get in touch with DeNiro from prison to give him pointers. Similarly, the real Henry Hill wrecked his witness protection because he couldn't resist bragging about the movie.
- Don't Make Me Take My Belt Off: Henry's father when he finds out the young Henry has been playing hooky to do mob errands. Dad's is only seen again in the movie -and with a long face- during his son's wedding, as Henry basically places himself in a new "family."
- Double Standards: Or triple... Tommy who is disgusted by the notion that a woman could be attracted to a black man -Sammy Davis Jr- laments that some gal rejects him because he is Italian.
Tommy : "In this day and age, what the fuck is this world coming to? I can't believe this, prejudice against - a Jew broad - prejudice against Italians."
- Downer Ending: On the one hand, most of the main characters end up dead or in prison. On the other hand, they were almost all murderers.
- Drugs Are Bad: Henry would probably still be rolling in cash and in the good graces of Paulie and Jimmy had he stuck to theft and stayed out of the drug trade... and not got hooked on coke. Paulie warns Jimmy and Henry not to get involved with drugs because of the increased attention it brings from the feds.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Tommy De Vito.
- Even Evil Has Standards: In the movie at least, Henry's an unrepentant sociopath and lifelong criminal, but draws the line at murder. However, the actual Henry Hill killed at least three people.
- Fate Worse Than Death: Henry Hill, who has to live the rest of his life as both "a rat" and "a schnook".
- Fed to the Beast: One of the creative threats the wiseguys use to enforce their demands.
- "Nigger stickup men get caught because they fall asleep in the getaway car," which should give you a hint about Stacks's murder.
- Paulie's educated concerns about drug traffic and his reluctance to use telephones, indicating that he knows the consequences of such and also knows about RICO conspiracy charges and wiretaps.
- "You may fold under questioning!"
- Gallows Humor: Quite a bit, most notably the grave digging scene.
- Genre Savvy: Paulie is very aware that drugs can bring the whole thing down. He also has an aversion to telephones and personal meetings, hinting he knows about wiretapping and criminal conspiracy cases.
- Gilligan Cut:
- Henry pointing how Jimmy instructs him to be discreet with a heist money. Cuts Henry entering his house with a huge Christmas tree and shouting to his family "I got the most expensive tree they had!"
- This one, during one of Karen's monologues:
Karen Hill: After awhile, it got to be all normal. None of it seemed like crime. It was more like Henry was enterprising, and that he and the guys were making a few bucks hustling, while all the other guys were sitting on their asses, waiting for handouts. Our husbands weren't brain surgeons, they were blue-collar guys. The only way they could make extra money - real extra money - was to go out and cut a few corners.
- Glory Days: How Henry looks at his old life.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: Pesci is famous for this role here and in Casino.
- Historical Villain Downgrade:
- Paulie Cicero is depicted as Affably Evil and a likable capo. Henry Hill explains him away as "protection for wiseguys among themselves". Mobster Paul Vario - his Real Life counterpart - had more direct involvement in the nastier (and bloodier) crimes committed by his crew. In Wiseguy (the book the film was based on), author Nicholas Pileggi writes, "He abhorred unnecessary violence (the kind he hadn't ordered), mainly because it was bad for business."
- Tommy DeVito's real life counterpart, Tommy De Simone, was even nastier than he's portrayed. The final straw that led to his murder was trying to rape Karen Hill while her husband was in prison.
- The movie leaves out the tiny fact that in real life Jimmy liked to shake down people by locking their kids in the fridge, or other stuff like cutting his wife's annoying ex-boyfriend into pieces, as well as numerous other murders. He and Paulie also ripped off the robbers and other guys involved in the Lufthansa heist- nobody got more than a $50,000 cut and most got less. They still got murdered for the connection.
- In the film, Hill says that Jimmy had never asked him to kill anybody. Though Hill is an accomplice after the fact on several murders, he never personally kills anyone. In Real Life, Henry Hill did personally kill several people, so this crosses over with Unreliable Narrator.
- Hookers and Blow
- Idiot Ball: Henry's mule/babysitter; she is insistently told to leave the house in order to make a drug related phone call. And what does she do? She phones from the house. The police are wiretapping everything. Bitterly lampshaded by Henry.
- I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Played straight by Tommy, then subverted when he intentionally kills Spider.
- In Medias Res: The story starts in the middle of the Billy Batts situation, then it jumps to Henry's origins and continues chronologically from there.
- Jerkass: Tommy DeVito to the point of being a sociopath.
- The other gangsters as well, especially Henry Hill and Jimmy Conway.
- Jewish Mother: Karen's mother, so much.
- Jump Cut: Used prominently during the last part of the movie to emphasize Henry's agitated state.
- Karma Houdini: Subverted Trope- Henry Hill avoids prosecution and mob retribution, but he will spend the rest of his life Brought Down to Normal, forever pining for the Glory Days. And eating bad spaghetti.
- Kick The Spider
- Killed Mid-Sentence: Morris Unavoidable; "I thought he'd never shut the fuck up. What a pain in the ass"
- Kill'Em All: Jimmy eventually wants to cut every link between himself and the heist.
- Little No: Tommy, as he realizes he's about to get whacked. He doesn't even finish saying it. Spoken with the volume of a Little No but with the emotion of a Big No.
- The Load: Most of the trouble the main characters get into is because Tommy would shoot anybody for so much as looking at him funny.
- Luxury Prison Suite: Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Which is actually nickname of Mafia Manor.
- The Mafia: Duh. Ironically, though, none of the main trio of characters are technically members and only one (Tommy) is even eligible (Jimmy and Henry both have non-Italian parents which would prevent them being "made").
- Manly Tears: Jimmy after he finds out that Tommy was killed.
- A Minor Kidroduction: The film starts showing how Henry Hill enters the wiseguy's world during his childhood. After a few minutes it AgeCuts to Ray Liotta.
- Mugging the Monster:
- Karen is assaulted by her neighbor, prompting a violent retaliation from Henry.
- An inversion is alluded at the wedding; Karen is concerned about a bag of money-gifts but Henry is amused and confident that nobody is going to rob a mob party.
- Mythology Gag: Joe Pesci beating Frank Vincent like in Raging Bull (Vincent's character surname was Batts too). Scorsese would deliver the punchline to the joke in Casino... somehow.
- The Napoleon: Tommy, by default due to Pesci's actual stature. The real-life inspiration was a large, beefy guy.
- Narrators : Henry. Karen occasionally.
- Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: His bosses want to put a hit on Henry at the end because they are worried he'll squeal to the cops. It's the realization that he has a hit on him that makes Henry squeal.
- Nice to the Waiter:
- Subverted: Jimmy is shown handing out $100 bills like confetti to waiters, bartenders, and doormen, but he's still a completely ruthless psychopath who kills people at the drop of a hat.
- Played straight by Tommy, who physically assaults them and boasts about it. Deadly with Spider, a young bartender with an entry-level job echoing Henry's past.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: The beating of Billy Batts. So intense that Jimmy dents his shoes.
- Not Using the Z Word: A la The Godfather, the word "Mafia" is rarely, if at all used.
- Oh Crap: Tommy gets just enough time for one before being shot in the back of the head.
- The Oner: The famous Epic Tracking Shot that starts as Henry leaves his car with the valet and follows he and Karen as they enter the Copacabana through a rear entrance, down a corridor, through the kitchen and into the nightclub as their table is set up and comedian Henny Youngman starts his act. It lasts three minutes. Watch it here
- One Steve Limit: Averted during the wedding scene. "Seems like all of them were named Peter or Paul, and they were all married to a Marie."
- Pistol-Whipping: By Henry on a guy who assaulted his wife.
- Pragmatic Villainy: The mob bosses frown on drug dealing, but mainly because it'll bring the full wrath of the federal government on them.
- Pretty in Mink:
- Some of the wives wear fur, although the fact that they were either stolen or bought with stolen money makes this overlap with Fur and Loathing.
- One of the gangsters buys his girl a fur coat with his cut of the Lufthansa cash. Jimmy flips out over it because he told everybody not to buy anything big that attracts attention. This is implied to be one of the reasons why Jimmy becomes paranoid and starts killing the accomplices.
- Pretty Little Headshots: Brutally averted with Tommy's murder. Henry even notes that they shot him in the head so that his mother couldn't give him an open casket at the funeral. Overlaps with Not in the Face.
- Rags to Riches: Henry and Tommy, former shoe shiner. The actual Tony Bennett song of the same name is the soundtrack during the initial narration.
- Real Men Cook: The wiseguys take cooking very seriously during their incarceration.
- Roman à Clef: Somewhere between this and Very Loosely Based on a True Story.
- Rooting for the Empire: "Jimmy was the kind of guy who rooted for the bad guys in the movies"
- Samuel L. Jackson: In a bit part (this movie was four years before Pulp Fiction after all...) of Parnell "Stacks" Edwards, the black guitar player who gets involved in the great Lufthansa heist: He gets killed by Tommy and Joe Carbone for not having disposed of the van used in the heist as he was told to do. Tommy shoots him in the head at point-blank range, then a few more times in the chest. His death probably sends Jimmy Conway on the course of just killing off all of the heist accomplices (aside from Tommy and Henry) to keep most of the money for himself.
- Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: When Henry is busted for drug dealing, his mob friends begin to cut ties with him in fear that he's going to rat them out to the police. Feeling cornered and fearing that his former friends will try to have him killed, Henry has no choice but to join the federal Witness Protection Program.
- The Seventies: The part of the movie where everything goes wrong for Henry Hill and the mob as a whole.
- Sexy Discretion Shot: Happens between Henry and Linda after driving her home to her apartment. We then see the still shot of the apartment building minutes until the scenery changes to morning light.
- Shoe Shine, Mister?: The film features a scene in which Tommy brutally beats and knifes Billy Batts to death for insulting him about being a shoeshine boy in Tommy's younger days.
- Shoot the Messenger: The wiseguys are about to lose the young Henry as an associate due to his truancy issues, so they solve the problem by roughing up the mailman who delivers the troublesome non-attendance school letters to Henry's house and father.
- Shout-Out: To The Great Train Robbery, no less. It's the final scene, by the way (the one where Tommy shoots at the camera).
- The Sixties: The part of the movie where Henry works his way into a comfortable position in the mob and times are good.
- Soundtrack Dissonance: A number of songs, including "Frosty the Snowman."
- A Storm Is Coming: The fact that Henry becoming a drug dealer and an addict is the spiral that eventually makes him fall from grace, flip and collapse the main Paulie's organization is very subtly hinted via the usage of the song Gimme Shelter when his new activities are being introduced.
- Surveillance as the Plot Demands: Justified. The regular police are easily bribed to look the other way, but when drug traffic comes into play, the Narcotics detectives, wiretapping and helicopter surveillance cannot be shaken off.
- Tension-Cutting Laughter: Done famously after a prolonged scene where Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) appears to be offended at being called "funny" by Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), his rage visibly building over the course of several minutes. A bit of a twist in that it is Hill who breaks the tension.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Billy Batts is bleeding in the trunk, but he's still alive. So Tommy stabs him eight times. Then Jimmy goes ahead and shoots him four times. And then the title screen comes in.
- Thou Shalt Not Kill: In a movie about gangsters, the main character Henry does not kill anyone. Not a soul. He buries bodies, steals things, beats people to a pulp, but he doesn't kill anyone. Justified in that, not being Italian on his father's side, he had no chance of becoming a "made man," and thus was more useful without having committed murders. In reality Henry did commit murders for the mob.
- Title Drop: Henry explains that "good fella" is code for mobsters referring to fellow members. The title of the original book, Wiseguy, is also dropped.
- Too Dumb to Live: No, Tommy, you don't kill a made man without the go-ahead from the boss. Sorry.
- Trunk Shot: When Henry, Tommy and Jimmy realize that Batts is still alive in the trunk and they pop it open.
- Verbal Tic: Joey Two-Times. "I'm gonna go get the papers, get the papers."
- Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The film is based on Henry Hill's memoir Wiseguy. However, Scorsese takes a lot of liberties to tell a good story. Henry Hill still says it's 95-99% accurate at almost any given time. It's arguably more like Roman à Clef.
- Villain Protagonist: Tommy, Jimmy, and Henry.
- Witness Protection: Where Henry ends up. The real Henry Hill left witness protection some time after the film was released. He says that everyone who would want him dead is long gone, and now gangsters who do contact him want him to read their screenplays.
- You Remind Me of X: When the three protagonists stop at Tommy's mother's place intending to get a shovel, only to end up staying for dinner, a painting there joyfully reminds them of Billy Batts, who at that moment is lying in the trunk of their car, half-dead.