The screener for “The Real Goodfella” came packaged with a DVD of Goodfellas. The opening quote in the episode, as well as one which figures prominently in the press for the episode, is: “Twenty years ago, Martin Scorsese made a movie about my life. And there's a lot of stuff that he left out.” - Henry Hill
I mention this because it's essentially impossible to talk about “The Real Goodfella” without comparing it to Goodfellas, and that National Geographic and the producers seem to want to make that comparison explicit. This is the story of Henry Hill's life in the mob and in dealing drugs, as told by Henry Hill. Which is essentially the story of Goodfellas. That's a few levels of surreality there, but the episode doubles or triples down on it by using re-enactments. Not just regular re-enactments, but actual scenes with speaking actors.
So we've got multiple levels of interpretation here. First, there are the actual events surrounding Henry Hill and his associates, which obviously, only a handful of people witnessed. Second, there are the recollections of those events in trial format, which were developed by Hill, lawyers, and the media covering the case. Third, there's the extremely popular movie based on those events. Fourth, there's Hill's narration, which provides the basis of the episode. Fifth and finally, there's the producers and actors interpretation of that narration and those events.
But since Goodfellas is by far the most famous recreation, it's the one that hangs over the entire production of “The Real Goodfella.” The vast majority of the scenes in the first 3/4s of the doc are scenes that were also in Goodfellas, which lends it the bizarre feeling of watching a low-budget theater production of a popular movie. But that feeling is literal as much as it is metaphorical, which makes it even odder. It's kind of like a DVD commentary of Goodfellas as well, thanks to Hill's omnipresent narration.
For those initial 40-or-so minutes, then, Henry Hill's actual narration is about the only thing that prevents the episode from simply being a quick recreation of the famous movie. It helps that the former Wiseguy is charming and fairly eloquent, and while he says the right things about how he had drug problems and wishes he hadn't been a criminal, he always sounds much more animated when he talks about his criminal life. About his mistress and eventual heroin cook, he says “She was a great kid! She liked to do drugs, so we had something in common.” Or, when one of his couriers rats him out, he calls him a “weak, punk kid” for snitching, even though snitching is what made him famous.
In the last quarter of the episode, though, the story moves beyond the events of Goodfellas and into new territory. Hill goes into Witness Protection, a move that he says “relieved” him of his fears…and then he promptly goes right back into the criminal lifestyle. “I was still a party animal. I still did drugs.” And this eventually leads him back into debt, which leads him into dealing, which leads him into a DEA trap, which leads him into prison. It's amusing for him to describe how, upon arriving in prison, Witness Protection serves him with papers saying that he's out.
Now, I'm not a regular viewer of Locked Up Abroad, but based on the title, the other episode they sent me, and the press materials, it usually seems to focus on, uh, being locked up abroad. Hill never seems to leave the country. So I'm left with the question: Why does this exist, and why is it part of this show? Because it's interesting? Well, yes, it actually kind of is, both in terms of the meta discussions raised earlier and because Hill is a reasonably compelling figure. Is that enough? I can't answer that any better than with a “Maybe?”