This is as close to an ideal movie as you're going to get. It's based on a fabulous book (Nicolas Pileggi's Wiseguy), has an excellent script, a good soundtrack and features outstanding performances from Ray Liotta, Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.
I've heard Goodfellas compared to The Godfather over and over again, but that comparison doesn't work for me. I actually found it to be the anti-Godfather. Goodfellas is much more gritty and real. It depicts the same violent, dangerous world that The Godfather did, but with all the grandeur stripped away. The harshness of Goodfellas will almost rub you raw at times, but in many ways its more rivetting than The Godfather because of its almost complete lack of sentiment. This is definitely a gripping, intense movie that will hold your attention for its entire 2 1/2 hrs.
Though Goodfellas is categorized as an action movie and does contain the requisite number of fights, explosions, etc., it's actually much more finely nuanced and psychologically complex than what you'd normally expect from this genre.
Ray Liotta's performance as Henry Hill is skillfully understated. You can really feel his ambivalence about the life he's leading and the people in it and his transformation from a street smart kid into the burned out, coked out loser he turns into is really disturbing. Henry literally self-destructs.
Joe Pesci delivers an equally powerful performance as sociopath Tommy DeVito. Tommy is so remorseless that he casually discusses cooking while burying one of the unfortunate victims of his lightning-quick temper. It's Tommy's non-chalance that makes him so frightening.
Robert De Niro is wonderful as well as Jimmy Conway, a man whose charm and congeniality mask his icy heartedness. Jimmy makes it so easy to like him and trust him, yet he betrays everyone who makes that mistake. Beneath his seemingly sincere good will is pure self-interest. Jimmy does what's good for Jimmy. Period.
Part of what I thought made this movie so interesting is the relationship between Henry, Tommy and Jimmy and how they react to the same events. Jimmy never, ever loses his cool or his surface lustre while the evil in Tommy feeds on itself and he becomes more evil. Henry, however, degenerates and falls apart. This is what makes Henry the only sympathetic character and the one whose redemption you'll hope for. Will Henry be redeemed? You'll have to watch Goodfellas and find out for yourself. Scorcese has delivered another masterpiece. Watch this golden piece of film making!