Ray Liotta, who died overnight Thursday while filming in the Dominican Republic, will always be associated with his role in Martin Scorsese’s 1990 mob masterpiece “Goodfellas” (streaming on HBO Max). But even within that one part, the actor showed incredible range. As Henry Hill, who goes from cocky young street hood to a solid earner to a federal witness, Liotta had the underlying menace that would define his screen persona, but he also brought a tenderness and fragility — a lost, searching quality that made the character sympathetic even as his actions were often reprehensible.
After spending time as a soap opera actor on TV, Liotta first came to moviegoers’ attention in Jonathan Demme’s 1986 film “Something Wild,” which earned him a Golden Globe nomination. Liotta arrives partway through the movie and completely changes its center of gravity, forcing a left turn from charmingly off-beat road movie rom-com into a dark thriller. Then, after supporting roles in “Dominick and Eugene” and “Field of Dreams” came the thunderclap of “Goodfellas,” the role that would define the rest of his career.
Yet he wore it well, seeming to intuit how to play off audience expectations in the roles he chose and the way he modulated his performances. Even if audiences couldn’t quite forget him as Henry Hill, Liotta never seemed burdened by the legacy of “Goodfellas.” He had even seemed to hit a new stride recently with roles in “Marriage Story,” “No Sudden Move” and “The Many Saints of Newark.” And with a number of performances in projects currently in post-production, we still haven’t even seen the last of Ray Liotta.
Below are a selection of roles that give of sense of what Liotta was capable of beyond “Goodfellas,” along with where to view them.
‘Something Wild’ (1986)
For nearly an hour, Jonathan Demme’s cult classic cruises along as an off-kilter screwball comedy about a straitlaced yuppie named Charlie (Jeff Daniels) who falls for a free-spirited woman name Lulu (Melanie Griffith). Then Ray Liotta shows up, and “Something Wild” becomes … something else entirely. In his first major movie role, Liotta — as Lulu’s vengeful ex-convict husband Ray — set the template for many of his best performances to come with his seething menace and dark charisma, so mesmerizingly scary that even an innocuous line like “Hiya, Charlie” sounds like a threat of violence.
Running time: 1:53
Streaming: Tubi: Free | Pluto: Free | Criterion Channel: Included | Apple TV+: Buy/Rent | Google Play: Buy/Rent | Vudu: Buy/Rent