Goodfellas is a brilliant movie not only because of Martin Scorsese’s vision, or its performances, but because of Nicholas Pileggi’s script. The dialogue is peerless–bracing and savagely funny. And of course, food is a big deal. Through all the double-crossing, scheming, and murder, people have to live their lives, and the care which they lavish on food is a contrast to the nastiness of the line of work they’re all in.
There’s a scene towards the end, when Henry (Henry Hill, who died this past year) is trying to mastermind a major drug deal while coordinating an elaborate family dinner:
I had to start braising the beef, pork butt and veal shanks for the tomato sauce. It was Michael’s favorite. I was making ziti with the meat gravy and I’m planning to roast some peppers over the flames and I was gonna put on some string beans with some olive oil and garlic, and I had some beautiful cutlets that were cut just right, that I was going to fry up before dinner just as an appetizer. So I was home for about an hour. Now my plan was to start the dinner early so Karen and I could unload the guns that Jimmy didn’t want, and then get the package for Lois to take to Atlanta for her trip later that night.
Pileggi’s script goes beyond The Godfather‘s scenes of camaraderie (Clemenza to Michael, “Michael, you never know when you’re going to need to cook for twenty guys”). The food, the money, the thrill that comes from taking someone down, the satisfaction in making easy money, is all a part of the pleasure of living in Henry Hill’s world. And when the excitement is gone, the food turns sour too. At the end, after he’s ratted his friends out, and placed in witness protection, he looks out at the audience in his shabby bathrobe and says,
Today, everything is different. There’s no action. I have to wait around like everyone else. Can’t even get decent food. Right after I got here I ordered some spaghetti with marinara sauce and I got egg noodles and ketchup. (He stares directly at the camera.) I’m an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.