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Ray Liotta’s greatest role


Friend of the Blog Glenn Kenny has a great tribute:

There’s a moment early in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 gangster classic “Goodfellas” that always tugs at my heartstrings. Scorsese’s movie is brutal and cleareyed and unsentimental, yes. But Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, the viewer’s docent into the criminal world, injects a note of tenderness that’s all the more effective for coming out of the mouth of a slick sociopath. (The movie is based on the true-crime book “Wiseguy” by Nicholas Pileggi; the real Hill attained some celebrity in the wake of the picture’s release.)

It’s during the voice-over when Henry recalls as a boy envying the wiseguys who hung out at the pizza parlor and taxi stand across the street from his home. The guy who runs the pizza joint is Tuddy Cicero, brother of the mob underboss Paulie Cicero, for whom Henry will be working soon. Narrator Henry says the gangster’s full name and pauses. Then, in an exhalation that has low but strong notes of love and nostalgia, he adds, “Tuddy.”

Now mind you, Tuddy is eventually revealed to be as ruthless and coldblooded a gangster as they come. It is he who puts the bullet in the back of the head of Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) at the fraudulent ceremony at which Tommy is to become a “made man.” But here is Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill, clearly still besotted with a childhood idol and the life he shared with the man. Liotta, who died this week at 67, fills Scorsese’s movie with dozens of equally revelatory touches.

When I was researching “Made Men: The Story of ‘Goodfellas,’” my 2020 book about the film, I asked about that moment in the movie several times. The pause and the repetition of Tuddy’s name was not in the script drafts I saw. It was Liotta’s own touch. No one I spoke with remembered whether Liotta suggested it during the voice-over recordings or just added it himself. In any event, it works. Maybe too well, for people who believe that depiction is endorsement. In a movie that relentlessly examines the lure and transgressive thrill of amorality, Liotta’s depiction of Hill is the hook that draws the viewer in.

Meanwhile, some news you can use:

Any of the non-Field of Dreams movies listed are very much worth seeing. R.I.P.

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