Goodfellas is a classic mob movie, but it’s unorthodox in a very signature way because the main characters aren’t made men, or in other words, they’re not members of any crime family. They’re simply career criminals with connections. However, the way they move and operate is very mob-like: it creates a feel to the film that reels us in with the traditional character roles and plot points but endears us to the characters because, besides the fact that they rob and steal for a living, they’re regular civilians, learning and operating in ways that we can all relate to. It’s made even better by the fact that the film is based on the true story of Henry Hill, the main character, and his experience with and around the Lucchese crime family. One of the lessons learned in the film is about loyalty, and Hill learns this lesson quickly, as he’s only 11 years old when he’s picked up by the cops for selling cigarettes illegally. Even though he was selling them under the command of a more powerful boss, and with another young boy, he doesn’t ‘squeal’ at all and he’s out of jail in no time. Upon being freed by the judge, he’s pulled aside by his mentor of sorts, Jimmy Conway, and given some very serious (and now famous) admonishment:
“Never rat on your friends, and always keep your mouth shut."
It’s a thing that’s been said many different times in many different ways, but this one has a certain ring to it, a catchy feel. Maybe because it’s essentially saying the same thing twice: it reveals an uneducated person’s attempt to instill values that are ultimately unwise. By the end of the movie, it seems that the lesson has been completely forgotten, as Henry Hill ends up giving up all his friends and going into the Witness Protection Program as a way to escape the life which was destroying him and his family. Ultimately, it’s a lesson within a lesson, teaching that no matter how much we hear something, or how many times other people try to force us to believe in an idea, it’s never going to be enough if we don’t personally subscribe to it. After all, if you can tell someone to do one thing for decades and they still do the opposite, what’s the point of it all? The message of the movie becomes clear in this light: we have to choose what we care about and believe in and that’s what will ultimately determine our destiny.