The Life And Times Of Ray Liotta – 6 Of His Underrated Gems

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18 Jun 22

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

When movie legend Ray Liotta died in May of this year, many in the film industry expressed their sadness. The man who had helped make the film Goodfellas such an iconic movie had seemed in fine form in his recent movie roles, so his sudden death was a shock for everyone.

Yet while Goodfellas is the film Liotta is most famous for, he showed his acting prowess in a string of excellent performances in less-talked-about movies.

This article looks at six Ray Liotta films that don’t receive the limelight of his biggest hit but deserve to be recognized as classics in their own right.

Something Wild (1986)

Despite earning a Golden Globe nomination for his absorbing performance as madman Ray Sinclair, Liotta didn’t get nearly enough praise for this 1986 movie.

In it, he plays an ex-convict who is fuming with jealousy over his former wife (Lulu) falling in love with the film’s protagonist, businessman Charlie Driggs, played by Jeff Daniels.

The ensuing drama sees two powerful dynamics go head-to-head: the raw, head-over-heels love of Charlie and Lulu, and the murderous rage of Sinclair, who will happily kill everyone involved – including himself.

For anyone wondering how Martin Scorsese discovered Liotta for his role in Goodfellas, they only need to watch this movie. Scorsese described how he ‘couldn’t take his eyes off him’ in this thriller and convinced him that he was the right person to play Henry Hill in the famous gangster flick.

Phoenix (1998)

This Danny Cannon movie put Liotta in the role of Harry Collins, a cop whose inability to gamble responsibly puts him on a collision course with a local gangster.

After receiving a death threat, Collins is told he must murder a young suspect held in police custody or repay the debt in full. Antagonized by the dilemma between finding the huge amount of money or committing the ultimate sin, Liotta puts in a sterling performance as the police officer who can’t win.

The film is also helped by a love interest of Harry, bartender Leila (Anjelica Huston), who he plans to run away with once his troubles are all over. Can he do it and live happily ever after?

A Marriage Story (2019)

Noah Baumbach’s award-winning drama is famous for its emotionally charged scenes between Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson’s characters, a couple whose marriage is falling apart. Liotta, though, adds some light humor to proceedings in his role as a divorce lawyer.

This movie was proof that Liotta was comfortable taking on elements of comedy in his roles, although he retained the ‘tough guy’ image of prior movies with some cutting comments. His character has clearly seen it all in his 30-plus years in the job, and he has no time for nonsense.

The film earned six Oscar nominations, while co-star Laura Dern scooped the award for Best Supporting Actress. Liotta, though, will be remembered for an under-rated role that helped keep the film ticking over nicely.

Narc (2002)

In Narc, Liotta’s character’s name is a lot like his physique. Bulky and sturdy like the tree of the same name, Oak is a retired cop who is brought back into the force to investigate the murder of his old colleague Michael Calvess.

Liotta gets his portrayal of a depressed old-school officer exactly right; a character whose mixture of old-fashioned values and disillusionment of today’s world can be a powder keg waiting to explode.

Joe Carnahan’s 2002 flick does a great job of exploring the complex personalities that go into detective work, and Liotta expertly provides one half of a working partnership that looks destined to go wrong.

Observe and Report (2009)


How do you make the audience laugh in one of the darkest comedies out there? Liotta does a great job as no-nonsense Detective Harrison, who must deal with upstart mall cop Ronnie, played by Seth Rogen.

Ronnie joined the force after becoming obsessed with pursuing a flasher. After a while, it becomes clear that maybe he’s not mentally fit for such a responsibility, and he’s got Harrison on his back to boot.

The movie didn’t fare as well as Liotta or Rogen would have liked, with the latter expressing his disappointment on the Howard Stern Show. Liotta’s performance is a gem, though, and worth checking out.

Killing Them Softly (2012)


Yet again, Liotta plays a mob boss in this flick about plotting and revenge, but he does it so well that you can’t blame the casting department for choosing him.

He plays Markie Trattman, a gangster famous for organizing inside jobs at poker games. Brad Pitt’s Johnny Amato decides to take advantage of this and pull off a robbery himself, hoping that Trattman takes the blame due to his previous record.

The movie is played out to the backdrop of the US financial crisis of 2008, and director Andrew Dominik does a great job of intertwining the economic and criminal climates, with cash being the ultimate motive for both.