Ray Liotta is Henry Hill, a half-Irish, half-Sicillian Brooklyn kid who is adopted at an early age by a group of unsavory gangsters and eventually wins a place in their "family." The boss is Paul Cicero (Paul Sorvino), a soft-spoken man who oversees a labyrinthine criminal operation. Henry's closest comrades are Jimmy (Robert De Niro), a hijack specialist who pulls off a $6 million heist at Kennedy Airport, and Tommy (Joe Pesci), a pint-sized psychopath whose rage repeatedly explodes in random violence.
Although he marries Karen (Lorraine Bracco), a Jewish girl from Long Island, Henry keeps a prostitute in a nearby apartment. He eventually serves some time in prison, but it's a breeze given the family's connections. Back on the streets again, Henry disobeys Paul Cicero and sets up his own drug operation. Karen joins in, and they both become addicted to cocaine.
Goodfellas, based on Nicholas Pileggi's best selling book, has been adapted for the screen by the author and director Martin Scorsese. The film pulsates with manic energy buoyed by a raucous selection of rock 'n' roll music and the creative camera work of Michael Ballhaus. Henry and his chums are amoral men who don't want to grow up. They reject the work ethic and follow their animal instincts. They savor the immediate gratifications of money, power, danger, and male camaraderie.
But in typical Scorsese fashion, there is a downside to this joy ride. Just like their peers in the ordinary world, these guys can lose everything they've got. Getting whacked a euphemism for getting murdered is what happens regularly to members of the family who buck the rules and think they can do their own thing. Realizing that "living the rest of my life like a schnook" is better than dying, Henry decides to testify against Paul Cicero and Jimmy in exchange for relocation in the Witness Protection Program. The moral of GoodFellas is that not even crooks can do whatever they want everybody is accountable.