Thursday, 23 April 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1990: Ray Liotta in Goodfellas

Ray Liotta did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Henry Hill in Goodfellas.

Goodfellas was very well received while being nominated for and winning many awards. Very few were given to Ray Liotta's lead performance, some leading performance recognition went to Robert De Niro instead who would never have ever been considered lead if the role was played by a lesser known actor. This is not all too surprising even though role of Henry Hill is quite a challenge, it is not the challenge that an actor is often given credit for. Henry Hill acts as our guide through the world of the mob in New Jersey as we follow him from his earliest days as a teenager working small time jobs, to becoming fully embedded into higher dealings of the mob life. Perhaps one of the most noted aspects of Liotta's performance is actually his narration. Narration often seems something that's taken more for granted than it should be. Liotta's delivery is pitch perfect here as it has such an earthy life to it. It is not merely a list of observances that Liotta gives rather he gives each moment a vivid detail of how Henry feels about each event he describes. Liotta's narration contributes to the film's atmosphere incredibly well, and further helps to establish the world the film is set in.

Now even though his narration is always present, except for few scenes where Henry's wife Karen takes over, Liotta's performance is not always front and center even though he's definitely lead. The film gives great detail to the whole world he's in with even some minor oddball crooks getting a bit of time to themselves. Liotta though is a constant as he best personifies kinda a criminal with a lack of a different element to him. He's not the boss like Paulie (Paul Sorvino), a criminal mastermind like Jimmy (Robert De Niro), nor is a psychopath like Tommy (Joe Pesci). Henry very simply is a man in it for the life of the wiseguy. Liotta is terrific in realizing simply the allure of the life through his performance. As he gets to be the toughest guy not in the mob, is allowed to have essentially an endless supply of cash as well as getting to basically act as though he is above everyone else who's not in the life, Liotta brings the enthusiasm of these moments in his performance. In his face you find the joy of living the life, with all the thrills coming from it. Of course Goodfellas is not a glorification of the mob by any means, and it does not shy away from the darker elements of what comes with that life in the least.

This is where one of the challenges come in with his performance in that Henry is not a good guy by any means. In addition Liotta does not compromise in this respect as he portrays rather bluntly just how uncouth and uncaring Henry can be at times towards the people in his life particularly his wife. Liotta's performance works though in the way he shows how a man of the lifestyle would be actually. There's that certain natural cruelty that Liotta brings that feels particularly genuine when Henry basically brushes off some of his more harmful behavior that just comes with his life. Henry's not necessarily pure evil though so to speak as he obviously is not like Tommy or even Jimmy in terms of his personal nature. As with Martin Scorsese's pseudo re-make of Goodfellas, The Wolf of Wall Street, Liotta, like Leonardo DiCaprio would in the later film, helps to present the straight forward depiction of a man who loves being a criminal. A funny thing is that Liotta brings much, well heart I suppose, to his portrayal of the "low class" criminal than DiCaprio would bring as a "high class" criminal. That's not a dig at that later performance, but it's rather just interesting to note that little bit of depth of the mobsters opposed to the pure vapid nature of the Wall Street crooks.

This is a notable difference as it becomes one of the most remarkable elements in Ray Liotta's performance. One thing that's a constant in the world of the mob, that's not in the world of the broker, is death. With this one thing comes Liotta's performance as he does give a measure of humanity to Henry. Liotta is excellent in being the reactionary man with any sense of the value of life in the scene where either Jimmy and especially Tommy get into a violent rage. Liotta plays this scenes especially well in that in one part he often acts as kinda the good cop so to speak as he tries to act as the calm person to talk to when ruffing someone up. Not every case of it is business though particularly with Tommy will become violent from the slightest perceived insult. Liotta is terrific in these scenes by showing that even to someone like Henry, who's in no way opposed to twisting or breaking a few arms, is actually a bit repulsed by the extreme violence and reflects the fear associated with being around Tommy's intensity. Liotta effectively brings a gravity in these scenes as well as establishes that Henry isn't fully comfortable with every aspect of the mob life.

Liotta performance works well within the scenes that may highlight De Niro's or Pesci's performances, as he always knows how to work around them in forming the certain group dynamic they have. In addition though when the film's last act almost squarely focuses upon Henry, Liotta does not falter in the spotlight. Throughout the film Liotta is particularly good in portraying the slow decay in Henry as the tension of the life grows which is only compounded when he becomes a cocaine addict. Liotta is outstanding in portraying the mental paranoia as he there is a pervasiveness nervousness in him, and in addition to that Liotta shows in such detail just how physically spent Henry is. Every twitch and shaken mannerism of Liotta's feels absolutely genuine and realizes so well the toll the drugs have on him. The final act then is basically putting the nails into the coffin of Henry's well being. In this way Liotta is just about flawless as he loses that joyful enthusiasm of the past and presents just what happens to the criminal when the vices of his life finally close in on him. He presents very naturally Henry coming to grips with his situation well seeing what his life has been worth, and I really love his silent reaction of understanding the moment he knows that it is either become a witness or die. Then to top it all off though Liotta's very brief, though very important, last scene as Liotta shows a defeated Henry not because he turned in his friends, rather because he can only go back and remember when he lived the dream.

24 comments:

luke higham said...

Louis: Apart from De Niro and Bracco, can I have your ratings & thoughts on the rest of the cast.

mcofra7 said...

What are your top 5 performances from Liotta?

Michael Patison said...

He's such an underrated and underused actor.

Anonymous said...

Can I have your thoughts on Bracco? You only gave the rating

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

What are everyone's top 10 Scorcese performances?

1. Ray Liotta (Goodfellas, 5)
2. Ellen Burystn (Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, 5)
3. Joe Pesci (Goodfellas, 5)
4. Robert De Niro (Taxi Driver, 5)
5. Leonardo DiCaprio (Wolf of Wall Street, 5)
6. Jodie Foster (Taxi Driver, 5)
7. Robert De Niro (Goodfellas, 4.5)
8. Daniel Day-Lewis (The Age of Innocence, 4.5)
9. Nicolas Cage (Bringing Out the Dead, 4.5)
10. Rosanna Arquette (After Hours, 4)

In case anyone's wondering, yes I have seen Raging Bull, and yes I'm no fan of it, at all. Let hellfire rain on me.

luke higham said...

GDSAO:
1. Pesci in Goodfellas
2. De Niro in Raging Bull
3. De Niro in The King Of Comedy
4. De Niro in Taxi Driver
5. Liotta in Goodfellas
6. Dicaprio in The Wolf Of Wall Street
7. De Niro in Goodfellas
8. Bracco in Goodfellas
9. Pesci in Raging Bull
10. Dicaprio in The Departed

Everyone in my top ten gets a 5.

luke higham said...

GDSAO: Willem Dafoe, could be a 5 on rewatch for The Last Temptation Of Christ.

Anonymous said...

I'd also single out Winona Ryder and Michelle Pfeiffer for The Age of Innocence. They were both really great.

John Smith said...

Louis, your toughts on Marlee Matlin in Children Of A Lesser God

luke higham said...

Louis: Your rating for Marlee Matlin and your rating & thoughts on Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest.

John Smith said...

My favorite Scorcese performances:

1.Joe Pesci/Raging Bull
2.Robert De Niro/Raging Bull
3.Joe Pesci/Goodfellas
4.De Niro/Taxi Driver
5.Dicaprio/The Departed
6.Day Lewis/The Age Of Innocence
7.Dicaprio/The Wolf Of Wallstreet
8.Jodie Foster/Taxi Driver
9.Keitel/Taxi Driver
10.Nick Nolte/Cape Fear

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Saw Child 44 and Woman in Gold. Former was a fine enough film, quite underwhelming but had moments of greatness; the latter was surprisingly moving and actually a decent enough watch.

Child 44
Hardy-3.5 (verging on a 4, a very solid anti-hero leading man performance with incredible amount of presence, he was effective in conveying the constant hint of something more to his emotionlessness)
Rapace-3 (an incredibly thankless role, thankfully she and Hardy have shown that the chemistry they shared from The Drop has not dissapated one bit)
Oldman-3
Kinnaman-1.5

Woman in Gold
Mirren-4
Reynolds-3
Bruhl-2.5 (Hollywood does not know how to use Mr Bruhl outside of Ron Howard and Quentin Tarantino smh)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar said...

Neither film will be in Oscar contention I can assure you aside from possibly Mirren.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

There's an unforgivable lack of Bill the Butcher on your top 10's.

John Smith said...

He was good, but not that good

John Smith said...

He was good, but not that good

John Smith said...

He was good, but not that good

John Smith said...

He was good, but not that good

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

*throws knife*

That my friends, is the minority vote.

John Smith said...

He was good, but not that good

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

So are you going to say that for a sixth time, or what?

John Smith said...

He was good, but not that good (Got to keep a counter)

Louis Morgan said...

Luke:

Sorvino - 4(Sorvino is very good as he finds the very precise manner of the mob boss. He carries himself in a menacing yet easy going fashion. He brings a certain fatherly warmth about him, but within that Sorvino never loses that chilling edge suggesting his willingness to have those killed when it is needed)

Everyone else is good in just bringing a bit of character in just a bit of time wither it is Frank Vincent, Mike Starr, Samuel L. Jackson or even Scorsese's mother.

Fletcher - 4.5(I suppose I don't quite love her to the degree some do, and I definitely view her as supporting, but I certainly like. She has the pervasive cold stare down perfect and there is a tremendous incisiveness about the way she speaks even though she always remains soft spoken. Also I've always liked her final scene where she shows just a bit of change in the end)

Matlin - 4.5

mcofra7:

1. Narc
2. Goodfellas
3. Something Wild
4. Cop Land
5. Killing Them Softly

Anonymous:

Bracco - (She's excellent as she brings that same lived in quality so to speak in her bits of narration. In addition she perhaps gives the most specific portrayal of the corruption of the life. She begins as charming and strong willed while conveying that same sort of thrill though when the mob elements become more obvious to her. Bracco though is very effective as she slowly loses basically herself as she keeps in line particularly well with Liotta as they both become drug addled messes)

GetDonaldSutherlandAnOscar:

1. Joe Pesci - Goodfellas
2. Joe Pesci - Raging Bull
3. Robert De Niro - Raging Bull
4. Ray Liotta - Goodfellas
5. Leonardo DiCaprio - The Wolf of Wall Street
6. Lorraine Bracco - Goodfellas
7. Robert De Niro - The King of Comedy
8. Leonardo DiCaprio - The Departed
9. Daniel Day-Lewis - Gangs of New York
10. Robert De Niro - Mean Streets

Yes my rating on De Niro in Taxi Driver has changed.

John Smith:

Matlin - (She has some great chemistry with Hurt as she brings the reason for the attraction between the two but as well the distance. She really makes the most out of the sign language as she brings out the volatile emotions within the words throughout)

Michael McCarthy said...

1. Robert De Niro in The King of Comedy
2. Robert De Niro in Raging Bull
3. Joe Pesci in Goodfellas
4. Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver
5. Ellen Burstyn in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
6. Daniel Day-Lewis in Gangs of New York
7. Joe Pesci in Raging Bull
8. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street
9. Jerry Lewis in The King of Comedy
10. Leonardo DiCaprio in The Departed

All fives