Goodfellas Plot Summary

In 1955, young Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) is fascinated by the Mafia in his working-class Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn. He starts working for the local caporegime, Paulie Cicero (Paul Sorvino), and his associates: Jimmy “The Gent” Conway (Robert De Niro), an Irish-American truck hijacker, and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci), a fellow youth offender. Beginning as a fence for Jimmy, Henry gradually progresses to more severe crimes. The trio spends their nights at the Copacabana nightclub, wooing women. Henry begins dating Karen Friedman (Lorraine Bracco), a Jewish woman initially troubled by his criminal lifestyle but eventually seduced by it. Despite her parents’ disapproval, they get married.

Unsanctioned Murder and its Aftermath

In 1970, Billy Batts (Frank Vincent), a made man in the Gambino crime family fresh from prison, insults Tommy at a nightclub owned by Henry. Tommy and Jimmy retaliate by fatally assaulting Billy. Knowing the repercussions of killing a made man, the trio buries the body in upstate New York. When Jimmy learns that the burial site will be developed, they are forced to relocate the decomposing corpse.

Violence, Infidelity, and Incarceration

Later in 1970, Henry witnesses Tommy kill Spider (Michael Imperioli), a young errand boy, during a card game. When Karen discovers Henry’s mistress, she confronts him at gunpoint. Henry moves in with his mistress, but under Paulie’s insistence, he returns to Karen after collecting a debt with Jimmy. Their trip results in their arrest due to a tip from the gambler’s FBI-typist sister, leading to ten-year prison sentences. To support his family, Henry involves Karen in smuggling drugs into prison for sale.

Release, Cocaine Business, and Betrayal

Paroled in 1978, Henry expands his cocaine business with Jimmy and Tommy, defying Paulie’s orders. Jimmy plans a raid on the Lufthansa vault at JFK Airport, stealing six million dollars. When some crew members disregard Jimmy’s instructions and draw attention, he orchestrates their murders. In 1979, Tommy is lured into a trap under the pretense of becoming a made man and is killed—partly as payback for Billy Batts’ murder.

Drug Addiction, Arrest, and Severed Ties

By 1980, Henry’s cocaine addiction spirals out of control, leading to paranoia. Following a failed drug deal and subsequent arrest, he is bailed out by Karen, who reveals she flushed $60,000 worth of cocaine down the toilet to evade FBI agents during their raid, leaving them broke. Disappointed by Henry’s drug involvement, Paulie severs ties with him. Karen approaches Jimmy for help, but suspects a trap and escapes. When Jimmy invites Henry for a suspicious assignment, Henry becomes wary.

Witness Protection and a New Life

Realizing that Jimmy plans to kill him, Henry decides to become an informant and enters the witness protection program with his family. His testimony leads to the conviction of Paulie and Jimmy. Adjusting to a mundane life in a nondescript neighborhood, Henry laments leaving his thrilling gangster life, now resigned to live as an average “schnook.”


“Goodfellas” is a 1990 American crime film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci. The movie tells the story of Henry Hill, a former mobster who becomes an FBI informant and recounts his life in the Mafia.

The film is a genre-defining work of American cinema, with its exploration of the criminal underworld and the code of loyalty and honor that governs it. Its use of voiceover narration, innovative camera techniques, and expertly crafted performances make it a classic of the crime genre, inspiring countless imitators and solidifying Scorsese’s place as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation.

The film’s visual style, from its use of tracking shots and camera movement to its unconventional framing and editing techniques, is masterfully executed, creating a unique and immersive cinematic experience. The use of voiceover narration adds to the film’s sense of intimacy and allows the audience to gain a deeper understanding of the characters and their motivations.

The movie’s screenplay, written by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi, is a classic example of the three-act structure proposed by Syd Field. The first act introduces the characters and their situation, downfall and the consequences of their actions. This structure serves to keep the story focused and intense, as each act builds upon the previous one, leading to a powerful and emotional conclusion.

Henry Hill’s transformation from an eager young recruit to a seasoned gangster who ultimately turns on his former associates is a central focus of the story. The film’s exploration of the complexity of human nature and the moral ambiguity of the characters is an example of complex and nuanced character development that adds emotional depth to the story.

The film’s use of music is also noteworthy, with its iconic soundtrack featuring a mix of classic rock and roll, blues, and pop music. The use of music as a storytelling device is particularly effective in the film’s climactic scenes, adding a layer of emotional depth to the already intense visuals and performances.