Reeling from the news of the passing of Ray Liotta, I took some time to look through his many works and identify the ones I had seen. He has been one of my favourite actors since I first saw him in Goodfellas back in 1990, quickly followed by Unlawful Entry and No Escape in quick succession. From then I was actively seeking out and collecting anything I could find with his name attached.
I am lucky enough to have seen the larger majority of Ray’s work and I thought it might be a bit of a fitting tribute to take a quick look through those films.
Back in 1983, Liotta joined the short TV series called Casablanca. This was a prequel to the better known classic. Whilst this show wasn’t groundbreaking or held with as much regard as the movie on which it was based Liotta got a good showcase and proved to be quite an interesting choice for the role.
A 1986 Ray was to star alongside Melanie Griffith and Jeff Daniels in Jonathan Demme’s Something Wild. A Particularly notable psycho, thriller, comedy. The film is really something special with Ray only appearing in the last half and really turning the film on its head. Following his introduction the film moves from a light-hearted comedy drama into a full bloody psycho thriller.
Joining Tom Hulce in 1988 for Nicky & Gino (or Dominick and Eugene in other territories,) Ray plays the older brother Eugene, who looks out for his younger brother who is a little bit slow and vulnerable due to an accident that occurred when he was a child. This is a very sensitive and enjoyable character piece about two brothers, and a question of loyalty. Does he continue with his education or does he look after his brother? Jamie Lee Curtis drops in to provide a little love interest for Liotta. Both Liotta and Hulce really deliver some oscar-worthy performances. An underratedgem.
In 1989, Ray was in Field of dreams with Kevin Costner, Burt Lancaster and James Earl Jones. This is a classic baseball drama with the well-known catchphrase, “If you build it they will come.” Funnily enough, I watched an interview with Liotta quite recently as he spoke of this film saying that he didn’t quite understand it and he hasn’t seen it, which is incredible given that it’s one of his best known films.
Absolutely worth checking out if you haven’t already.
In 1990, Liotta appeared in the historic Goodfellas, the film that put Ray Liotta on the map and he became a bit of a legend after. Playing real life mobster Henry hill, opposite Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Lorraine Bracco and Paul sorvino, this Martin Scorsese directed mobster crime thriller is one of the most incredible movies ever made and Liotta is the central character around which this masterpiece is set.
Oddly enough, after the acclaim of Goodfellas Liotta didn’t follow it up with a huge film or even a leading role, instead he appeared in ananthology movie called Women and Men 2. I have a copy of this on DVD under the title Art of Seduction, but I’ve never brought myself to watch the whole thing. Only the Liotta segment. As a short 25 minute middle sequence involves Liotta and his alcoholic wife Andie MacDowell set in the 1950’s.
It wasn’t the most enthralling 25 minutes, however, the leads work well.
In 1992 Liotta starred opposite kiefer Sutherland in the M*A*S*H-esq Article 99. This medical comedy, drama, thriller focuses on two doctors who attempt to fight the bureaucracy of the American hospital system to get Vietnam veterans the treatment they require. This is quite a bold movie in the same way M*A*S*H was and needs to be seen by a larger audience. It also has the feel of Scrubs with John c. Riley plays a much more likeable character than Dr. Cox.
1992 also saw Ray do his first screaming psycho-type roll opposite Kurt Russell and Madeleine Stowe as an unhinged police officer who invades the life of a yuppie couple in Unlawful Entry. Liotta was fantastic in this movie and it’s hard to think of any other actor in there. He’s cool, smooth, and likeable and can change all that with ease.
The three leads all have tremendous chemistry together when friends and when Liotta turns the audience feel just as betrayed as Russell and Stowe. The premise has been done to death, however, this is one of the strongest examples of the genre, thanks to Liotta.
1994 saw Ray star in the action adventure No Escape directed by Martin Campbell. This is one of my favourites. Sent to a remote island prison camp, Liotta has to fight to survive and ultimately escape. Ernie Hudson and Stewart Wilson co-star and whilst this film was released around the same time as Christopher Lambert’s Fortress, this is easily superior. Thanks to Liotta’s charismatic lead. Oddly enough, this film doesn’t seem to have any females in the cast, which I thought was quite weird. I can’t think of any other films that don’t have women in the cast.
Corrina, Corrina was next. This is an interesting film in which Liotta stars alongside Whoopi Goldberg in the 1950s suburban setting. Goldberg plays Liotta’s housekeeper and slowly they fall in love, defying the views of the surrounding neighbours and causing racial tensions. Whilst it doesn’t have any particularly brave statements to make about race relations it still works and on the lighter approach gives an audience of all ages something to think about.
Operation Dumbo Drop was a light hearted Vietnam war adventure from Disney in 1995 with Liotta in the lead. Denis Leary and Danny provide support and whilst it took me a few years to get around to watching it, as I fear it would be aimed at kids, I found it to be a pleasant and fun adventure tale with some decent action sequences.
’96 saw another leading role, this time in John Dahl’s Unforgettable. This follow up to Dahl’s exceptional The Last Seduction isn’t as great, however, I still find it to be a very entertaining movie. The gimmick of the movie involves Liotta attempting to solve the murder of his wife by injecting the memories of the recently deceased into his brain. Whilst the a plot that is a little bit out there, it’s still engaging and the approach is a fun and thrilling movie. Liotta proves to be a formidable leading man and facing off against the Kim Coates’ despicable villain. I highly enjoy this despite the fact most critics negative takes on it.
’97 saw Liotta returning to his screaming psychopath alter ego in the guilty pleasure Turbulence. Liotta plays a convicted murderer being transported to prison by plane only to escape whilst the flight is underway, wreak havoc and ruin Lauren Holly’s day. The critics were not favourable of this film, however, I bought my cinema ticket and walked out having had a great time with it. It was a hoot
Also, in ’97 liotta made Copland. A movie for which Sylvester Stallone walks away with most of the compliments for his incredible, dramatic performance and dedication to the role, seeing additional weight gain. And I would say that this is just as relevant for Liotta as he performed something of a similar feat when it comes to the weight gain and whilst also giving a fantastic performance. He is often forgotten for his role here given the all-star cast that includes Robert de niro and Harvey Keitel and Michael rapaport. Dart up the nose!!
Phoenix was a Tarantino-esq thriller made in 1998 in which Liotta starred alongside Anthony lapalia, Daniel Baldwin, Jeremy Piven and Xander Berkeley. This is quite a decent thriller and whilst it lacks any real action, it more than makes up with witty and interesting dialogue between the leads and enough violence to keep those looking for an authentic tarantino experience. Liotta in the lead works very well and he holds the film together with ease. I do recommend this film, it’s a solid crime caper.
One of the strangest castings on Liotta’s filmography is that of Frank Sinatra in The Rat Pack. Even Liotta queried whether he was right to do this or not. I can’t remember the exact reasons he gave for taking the role, but he passes it off rather well and he fits in with the rest of the casting. When casting Frank Sinatra it’s hard to imagine who else could possibly work better and whilst Liotta isn’t perfect, he’s still one of the better choices they could have made. Also happens to be quite a good film, even if it is lacking some of the licensing to Sinatra’s songs, instead having an impersonator singing with Liotta miming.
’99 saw Liotta have his first cameo in a Muppet movie. In Muppets From Space he plays a security guard who falls for Miss Piggy. If memory serves he’s only there for around 5 minutes but still a fun move for Liotta.
Also in ’99 Liotta played alongside Joseph Fiennes in a rather boring crime drama called Forever Mine in which Liotta plays a politician who finds out Fiennes is having an affair with his wife. I bought this movie on DVD and I remember watching it once but I honestly couldn’t tell you much about it. It was entirely forgettable even though it was written and directed by Paul Schrader.
In 2000 Liotta starred in a film called Pilgrim or as I know it Inferno. This was a low budget action thriller in which Liotta wakes up in the middle of the desert with no idea how he got there or who he was. This film really works because of Liotta. He is entirely watchable as he works his way through the strange web of mystery. I particularly remember this movie for its opening credits which involves very fast percussion music and Liotta flying out of the backseat of a car. It really grips you and the film continues to entertain throughout. It’s worth seeking this one out.
Also in 2000 Liotta of so-starred alongside Vanessa Redgrave in the family drama A Rumour of Angels. This is another film I watched once I wasn’t overly enamoured by it, but I enjoyed Liotta’s performance as it was more gentle than his recent batch of gritty thrillers.
Liotta popped up in the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal playing the District attorney who eats, well, I won’t spoil it but it’s a bit gross. It was fun to see Liotta play opposite Anthony Hopkins. However, aside from Liotta’s tasty tidbit this film is pretty forgettable.
Joining Gene Hackman, Sigourney Weaver and Jennifer Love Hewitt Liotta played fourth fiddle in Heartbreakers where he’s almost forgotten amongst a cast of huge names that also include Anne Bancroft, Carrie fisher and Jason Lee. However, the film has endured over the years and it’s really quite an impressively rich comedy. It’s one of those films most people would say they really enjoyed and one of the first times I’ve seen Gene Hackman do out and out comedy. Liotta himself is hilarious as he rampages his way toward Jennifer Jason Leigh whilst being propositioned by Sigourney Weaver in “that” outfit.
Joe Carnahan’s Narc came along in 2002. This is another classic in Liotta’s filmography filmed on a tiny budget and one of the finest and grizzly flicks about corrupt cops. The film is fraught with tension and suspense. Not to mention the incredible performances from both Jason Patrick and Ray Liotta.
Also in 2002 Liotta was in the Denzel Washington John Q that also featured Robert duvall, James Woods and Anne heche. Directed by Nick Cassavetes this is quite a good emotional drama, with some thrills too, and the fact that it’s based on a true story makes it somewhat interesting.
2002 saw Liotta star in Backdraft-lite, a true story TV movie Point of Origin about an arson investigator. I honestly didn’t expect too much from this, but I really dug it. It was a solid thriller with some good effects. A very very interesting thriller with an excellent lead performance from Liotta.
Liotta also appeared in Ticker, one of the short films made by BMW and directed by Joe carnahan. It’s not worth pursuing, to find this for Liotta as he’s only in it for a smattering of seconds. However, the collection of short films is quite good fun.
One of the other big things that Liotta is known for is voicing Tommy vercetti in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, the 1980s themed follow-up to Grand Theft Auto III. This is arguably the best of the series so far and Liotta brings an awful lot to the role with a quality voiceover work throughout.
In 2003 Liotta joined John Cusack, Rebecca de Mornay, Amanda, Pete and John Hawkes alongside his Article 99 co-star John C. McGinley in the highly-thought-of horror thriller Identity. This is another one of those films that people rave about, but might not have done quite so well in the eyes of the critics. Liotta is excellent here.
It took a while to arrive, but 2004’s The Last Shot was a film that I was incredibly excited about. The idea that Liotta and Alec Baldwin were playing brothers sounded awesome. However, this is a fairly middle of the road comedy, based on a true story about the FBI setting up a fake movie shoot to catch some criminals. Liotta only appears for a few minutes and I found the film a bit of a misfire.
In 2004, Liotta starred with Stephen Ray, Willem Dafoe and Michelle Rodriguez in a rather fun thriller called Control. I was genuinely surprised that this was as enjoyable for a direct video thriller. Liotta and Dafoe have some good scenes together and really elevate this over what it could have been. Again, this is one to check out as it’s surprisingly good.
Guy Richie directed Liotta in Revolver in 2005 and whilst I’ve seen it I struggled to remember it. Watching through the trailer it doesn’t joggle any memory banks so this will be one I’ll have to watch again and soon.
2005’s Slow Burn is exactly what it sounds like. Liotta appears with LL Cool J in this, frankly, boring drama. I do remember losing interest in the film as it slows in the middle. Perhaps it’s worth checking out again out of respect
Following this up in 2006 Liotta joined the ensemble cast for Even Money focusing on gambling addiction and starring Kim Basinger, Danny DeVito, Forest Whitaker, Tim Roth and Kelsey Grammer. This is honestly another film that I struggle to remember, but I remember buying it on DVD soon after watching it, so perhaps it’s another one for a revisit.
2006 Liotta starred in a comedy drama called Comeback Season. I remember the trailer for this looking somewhat wacky and fun. Maybe along the lines of a Farley brothers movie and being somewhat underwhelmed by its lack of crazy humour and being more of a sensible drama as it went on. Honestly, it’s not a terribly bad movie. It’s difficult to find. I am lucky enough to own the DVD and there’s a good support cast featuring Glenne Headley.
2006 also saw Liotta work with Joe Carnahan again on Smokin’ Aces. At the time I remember this being mauled by the critics however I dug this movie big time. It was a classy, fun, action packed thriller with a great cast. Carnahan blends together action, comedy and thrills like no other here and keeps it all together with a kinetic energy that was unrivalled at the time. Smokin’ Aces, like Narc, was ahead of its time. This was recently released on 4K as worth checking out.
In 2007, Liotta played the villain in Wild Hogs, a surprisingly well received comedy with John Travolta, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy and Tom Allen. I particularly remember this film as I wasn’t aware Liotta was in it. When I went to see it I was beside myself when he turned up and made the film infinitely superior. On the one hand, the critics were not that pleasant toward it, but I walked out chuffed to bits with a surprise appearance from Liotta in a meaty and fun role.
Liotta starred in a 2006 TV series called Smith. I recall catching the first episode of it on late night television and being quite impressed by its crime keepers, but missed the following episodes before it was cancelled. I’d love to be able to track this down again as he co-stars with Virginia Madsen and Amy Smart.
2007 saw Liotta join another ensemble cast including Channing Tatum, Michelle Rodriguez, Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson and Jennifer Carpenter in the politically charged true story Battle In Seattle. This is an incident I knew nothing about and fully enjoyed Liotta’s performance as he was particularly good in the role of the mayor.
2008 Liotta slipped a little more toward direct to video thrills in Cuba Gooding Jr’s Hero Wanted flick. This was a somewhat underwhelming action thriller, as it lacks any significant action. Can’t help but wonder what was happening with Cuba Gooding Jr as he slipped from Oscar winner to something like this. I can’t really remember Liotta’s participation other than plodding around in a blue overcoat and being left underwhelmed when it was all over.
Another of my favourite actors over the years has been Harrison Ford and having Harrison Ford and Ray Liotta appear in the same film together was a dream come true. Crossing Over was not terribly well received when it arrived. However, I thoroughly enjoyed it primarily because unrated Cliff Curtis was fantastic here, Liotta was good too. I’ve only seen this once but it’s another one I’ll have to revisit.
One of the biggest surprises was a film called Observe and Report made in 2009 starring Seth Rogan and Anna faris. This came out at roughly the same time as Paul Blart Mall Cop and was another comedy about mall cops. I couldn’t believe my eyes and ears when this savage crime comedy boiled down to Seth Rogan and Ray Liotta’s detective going head to head. This is a fantastic movie. I’m well worth seeking out. Not the hilarious comedy one expects, but savagely entertaining.
Yet another ensemble cast Liotta joins Jessica Biel, Patrick Swayze, Lisa Kudrow, Forest Whitaker, Kris Kristofferson and Eddie Redmayne in Powder Blue. Liotta has the pretty difficult task of sitting watching Jessica Biel Do her thing as a stripper, it’s tough work, but someone has to do it. He gives one of the best performances in the film.
2009 saw Andy Garcia and Ray Liotta go head to head in La Linea or The Line. This was a bit of a strange action movie. I felt that Liotta was a tad too old to be portraying the action hero. But in hindsight the film is gritty and fairly decent when it comes to action set pieces. It’s pretty good.
Liotta starred in the direct video sequel to the Keanu Reeves thriller Street, Kings. Street Kings 2: Motor City was a surprisingly entertaining cop thriller, whilst it wasn’t quite worthy of a cinematic release was one of the better sequels that was destined for video and that really is thanks to Liotta’s commanding lead performance.
Another direct video thriller Liotta starred in was opposite Christian Slater who I believe was in prison in and around the time of this being shot or released. From the trailers The River Murders looked quite fun and interesting. However, it really wasn’t terribly thrilling or polished and is entirely forgettable.
I’m pretty sure Liotta is the reason Date Movie worked so well. He was a choice bit of casting as the big bad of the movie. A short but hugely impactful performance that really solidifies the movie. A perfectly measured performance between humourous and scary.
The Details is a jet black comedy that has a small but incredible performance from Liotta. There is a scene on a bridge where Liotta confronts Maguire that is just spectacular. The narrative might not sit right with many and the conclusion is a bit dumb, but Liotta is exceptional here.
On the other side of that was 2012’s Ticket Out featured Liotta helping a wife flee her abusive husband. This is quite an entertaining TV movie with more action than I expected. It was nice to have Liotta elevate the film in the lead and whilst it’s far from spectacular, it was still a decent little thriller. Also shows up as Breakout.
Killing Them Softly was a big release starring Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini and Richard Jenkins. Annoyingly this falls into the category of bland and boring. Despite an interesting start, Liotta has some good scenes, but ultimately the film just isn’t as good as it should have been.
A fun smaller role came in 2012 opposite Gina Gerson, Val Kilmer and Kelly Giddish in a flick called Breathless (new relation to the Melville movie.) It’s a little bit funny. Liotta isn’t in it very much but it passes the time. I wouldn’t advise going out of your way to see it but it’s agreeable viewing if there is little else on.
Also in 2012 was Michael Shannon’s big screen outing The Iceman which was something of an underwhelming thriller about a contract killer and his family. Whilst the leading performance is solid there was a real lack of thrills that I was hoping for.
One of the bigger films of 2012 was A Place Beyond The Pines which saw Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper not appear on the big screen together. This was a refreshingly deep thriller with career best performances from the leads. Liotta was particularly good, albeit somewhat under used, but then this is a character piece with a focus on the two main characters. Very much worth checking out
I have to say that 2013 saw Liotta do a cheap Die Hard rip off called Suddenly in which he plays a cop who has to take down a plot to assassinate the president in a small town. This was one of Liotta cheapest and worst movies and worst of all, directed by Uwe Boll. Someone who Liotta had worked with before on In The Name of The King, a film I did not watch. I’m amazed that Boll managed to lure Liotta back onto his set. It was a giggle to see Liotta do the Bruce Willis style action man role but the whole film is so farcical and inept it’s only worth watching if drinking heavily.
Liotta’s second Muppet movie was Muppets Most Wanted, however, you have to look hard to find them. Ray’s in the background, singing and dancing with Danny trejo. What a peculiar collection of words.
Liotta had a smallish role in Sin City: A Dame to Kill For whilst the first film was a minor classic this sequel just didn’t work as well. It was great to see him but if memory serves his role was somewhat short, but the whole film was ultimately forgettable.
Liotta also appeared in 2014’s Kill The Messenger starring Jeremy Renner. This was a big, polished, political thriller that recalled movies like All The President’s Men. Very much worth checking out.
Reuniting with Anthony Hopkins in 2015. Blackway was a surreal action thriller starring Hopkins as he attempts to solve Julia Stiles’ issues with the psychotic Blackway played by Ray Liotta. I didn’t have high hopes for this film, but I really enjoyed it and having a buildup to see Liotta as the titular villain was very much worth the price of admission.
Liotta starred in three seasons of Shades of Blue with Jennifer Lopez. This was a strange series that did attempt to add realistic values to a tired and established formula. Some may accuse this of being a little bit woke. However, I find it to be still an interesting and enjoyable crime series and I appreciate Jennifer Lopez in the leads because she is exceptional here. Her on screen chemistry with Liotta is second to none. A show worth checking out.
Sticking Notes are an interesting little indie flick from 2016 featuring Liotta as a father who asks his dancer daughter and granddaughter to care for him, risking the daughter’s opportunity to participate in the great dancing career opportunity. Liotta is tremendous here and the film is dramatic and funny in equal proportions. one to find!
The last film I saw Ray Liotta in recently was No Sudden Move directed by Stephen Soderberg. Yet another ensemble thriller Liotta has a decent screen time and a role that demands some extreme intensity. Whilst I didn’t think the film were particularly great and there was some frustrating decisions made around the cinematography, Liotta had easily one of the best roles in the film.
I fully accept that I’ve yet to see Marriage Story and some of his very early TV work, for example Another World and Our Family Honor, but Ray Liotta’s career is fantastic. He’s such a versatile actor that can easily move from comedy to drama to thrills to action and adventure. Most of his films are above average. Very few are bad, and even if they are, he’s likely to be the best thing in them and makes them worth a watch. I look forward to the next couple of films that are due to be released and a number of flicks out there that I have missed.
Thank you Ray. I will miss you.