The first two Godfather movies are brilliant, no two ways around it, but GoodFellas is my favorite movie about the mob, hands down.
The first time I saw GoodFellas, I knew a good twenty minutes into the film that this was really something special, and indeed, it's become a modern day classic. You can see the influence of GoodFellas everywhere these days, and it was the movie that made director Martin Scorsese a major hero to young filmmakers everywhere.
Unlike The Godfather, which showed what the mob is like from the top, GoodFellas took the point of view of a solider in the army, a great idea that had never been done before.
Now Henry Hill, who Ray Liotta played in the film, has died at the age of 69, making him the last real life GoodFella of the film. (Jimmy Conway, who was played by Robert DeNiro, died in prison years ago.) At the end of the film, we saw that Hill wound up in the witness protection program, but he later left it, and he died not far from where I live in the San Fernando Valley, West Hills, CA, which is practically like being in the witness protection program anyways. (Think the neighborhood the Brady Bunch lived in and you'll get the idea).
When Hill got nailed by the Feds, he also decided to tell all in print with the book Wise Guy, written by Nicholas Pileggi, which turned into the movie GoodFellas. It's one of the best book to big screen adaptations I've ever seen, and in the L.A. Times, Hill said GoodFellas "was 99.9 percent dead on." It certainly felt authentic, whether you ever knew people like that or not.
Hill reportedly died of complications of heart problems, and it wouldn't be a surprise if his alcoholism contributed to his death as well. (Hill called in the Howard Stern show many times, and he was often out of his mind drunk.) Even though he was able to get away from the mob's clutches, he obviously had to life the rest of his life looking over his shoulder, and he clearly never found peace after leaving "the life" as gangsters like to say.
Ultimately, GoodFellas did a great job of showing the appeal of the mob, and how eventually the fantasy of being a gangster turns into a nightmare. As The Godfather, GoodFellas and The Sopranos have proved, it's great entertainment to watch the mob, but it's not a fun life to live.