- Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas remains an enduring classic, and Tommy DeVito's death is one of its most important moments.
- Tommy was whacked for killing Billy Batts, a member of the Gambino family and a "made man," a decade earlier.
- Tommy's death is slightly more mysterious in real life, and the exact reason for his death remains uncertain.
A favorite of cinema snobs and regular moviegoers alike, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas is still remembered as one of the director's very best films more than 30 years after it was released. Even as the movie continues to become more beloved though, there are some mysteries around the movie that continue to confuse fans.
One of the movie's last great set pieces comes with the murder of Tommy DeVito. Tommy is made to believe that he is going to become a "made man," but after he sees that the room where his celebration was supposed to take place is empty, he realizes he's getting whacked instead. Why, exactly, does Tommy get whacked, though?
Why does Tommy get whacked in 'Goodfellas'?
As portrayed by Joe Pesci in a performance that won him an Oscar, Tommy is a loose cannon, someone who often lets his anger get in the way of common sense. We see that energy on full display when Tommy decides to kill a "made man," someone who has been brought into the inner circle of the mob, in 1970. In the scene, Billy Batts, a member of the Gambino crime family, is patronizing and making light fun of Tommy, so Tommy flies off the handle and kills him.
Because Billy is a "made man," Tommy knows that he can never be implicated in Billy's death. So, Tommy, Henry, and Jimmy drive upstate to bury Billy in the woods. Tommy is whacked nine years later, in 1979, and it remains a mystery in the film how the Gambino family found out that Tommy was responsible for Billy's death. According to the rules of the mob, though, once they knew, Tommy had to be killed.
The real-life Tommy died under more mysterious circumstances.
Because Goodfellas is based on a true story, the outline of what happened to Tommy in real life is basically the same. The film does fill in some details that are still up for debate in real life, including exactly why Tommy was killed. As in the movie, it's speculated that Tommy was killed for murdering Billy, but because the mob doesn't announce the reasons for its executions, we'll likely never know for certain.
Tommy's death is the beginning of the end.
Although the early part of Goodfellas is intentionally quite fun and intoxicating, Tommy's death is the moment when everything begins unraveling for Henry. He becomes more paranoid, and ultimately turns against the mob and joins witness protection. As the movie shows us throughout, being in the mob may not actually be everything it's cracked up to be.