“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

— Henry Hill

Okay. These four Italians walk into a bar and … well, five actually, but it’s no joke.

Martin Scorsese, Ray Liotta, Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci, along with writer Nicholas Pilegi who wrote the original story, must have all sat down over a pizza in Mateo Pisciotta’s cafe in Brooklyn, and ordered up this fantastic meal.

The ingredients seemed perfect, and under the aegis of that diminutive Italian street kid Martin Scorsese, the best film crew available, including Scorsese and one of film land’s most incredible editors, Thelma Schoonmaker, this Mediterranean movie mob cooked up “Goodfellas,” now pulled up, shined to a burnished glow and presented on the big screen as part of the 15th Maine International Film Festival, in Waterville’s newly renovated Opera House.

Schoonmaker will also receive the festival’s Mid-Life Achievement Award tonight at the screening.

The American gangster is as iconic a figure as the American cowboy. In this, the 15th year of the film festival, we’re treated to both. “Once Upon a Time in the West,” and now Martin Scorsese’s brilliant “Goodfellas.”

Brilliant is probably the most overused adjective in the film critics’ quiver. So I hit the thesaurus and found some others. I’ll stick with brilliant.

“Goodfellas,” as every moviegoer of a certain age knows, is the story of Henry Hill, a punk kid of Irish and Sicilian heritage, who grew up on the mean streets of Brownsville, the bottom feeding neighborhood on the East New York section of Brooklyn. Hill hit the streets as soon as his diapers dried, and became a runner and errand boy for the Lucchese crime family.

The film tells the true story of Hill’s (Ray Liotta) rise from street punk to soldier in Paul Cicero’s local family. On the ride up, we meet his associates: Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (real name Burke) played by Robert De Niro, Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino) and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and a couple of dozen other beautifully cast miscreants, most of whom you are all familiar with because they’re all part of a movable feast of Italian team characters that appeared in “The Godfather” and “The Sopranos.”

In stunning color, dazzling camera work and Oscar-winning editing, we watch Hill enhance his life with a marriage to a nice Jewish girl (Lorraine Bracco) from a better neighborhood, and make and squander millions of dollars on booze, assorted women, gambling, drugs and some of the cheapest looking, but expensive, clothes and cars ever filmed in one movie.

It’s right here where we must add a couple of other gifted contributors who added to the richness of this sauce: Leslie Bloom’s set decorations, Richard Bruno’s costume designs and Sylvia Fay’s casting of the most dangerous looking extras in New York. They are the peppers, sausages and oregano to Scorsese’s ziti.

Ray Liotta has had a well-floated career since “Goodfellas,” but nothing that has pulled the best out of him since Scorsese directed him. (It’s always fun to mention that Ray had his brains eaten by Hannibal Lecter in “Hannibal.” )

His work here is tough and well thought out. His scenes near the end where he is coked up and paranoid give up some of his finest acting. He clearly threw all of his training and energy into this part, hoping it was his “Pacino” moment. That it isn’t, is not his fault. That it is as good as it is, owes a lot to Scorsese’s hand.

DeNiro’s Jimmy Conway is pure DeNiro, which means, of course, he didn’t have to work as hard as he did in “The Godfather.” Still, when “Bobby” DeNiro walks onto a screen, even if he’s delivering milk, we look at no one else.

Joe Pesci’s criminally insane Tommy DeVito is one of Pesci’s incomparable stable of unstable gangster psychos that we’re all too familiar with by now. But when you need one of those, whom do you call?

To top off a great Italian feast you need, of course, a great bottle of wine, so Scorsese uncorked that mixture of pinot, merlot and Chianti, Lorraine Bracco, who has graced all the screens, large and small, with acid sharp, sensual and provocative performances.

Few actresses can share a frame with people like DeNiro or even the rage of Liotta and still steal away the camera. We remember how hard she made Jimmy Gandolfini work in “Sopranos,” just to hold onto a scene, when all she did was sit there as a shrink and listen. Her work here deserved an Oscar. That she received only the nomination is part of the off-key melody of Hollywood.

“Goodfellas” in this latest reincarnation, reminds us of the genius of Scorsese and certainly the superior crafts-woman-ship of his editor Schoonmaker. It can be re-said here, that as far back as he can remember, all Martin wanted was to be a filmmaker. Any questions?

J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.

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