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Stanley Solomon writes, "One of the peculiar attributes common to most films, both about gangsters and about criminals, is the relative ethical standing of criminal activity. As immoral as crime may be in the abstract, in a particular film it is usually measured against an even less appealing alternative". This is a tactic expertly employed by director Martin Scorcese. Two examples of films that employ this tactic are the following:
The protagonists Henry Hill and Sam Rothstein are both criminals in their own right, but come across looking clean in comparison to some of the other characters that inhabit their worlds.
In "Goodfellas", Henry Hill partakes in the same type of illegal activities as his cohorts Tommy and Jimmy, but Henry employs a sensibility and loyalty that makes his character far more sympathetic. If Henry gets violent, he only becomes so out of principle or because the other guy "has it coming". When Tommy acts similarly, it comes from a deep-seated place of pure evil. For example, there is a scene in which Henry pistol-whips a young man who made advances on his girlfriend, Karen. The audience certainly has no trouble siding with Henry in this instance because the guy he attacks is a jerk, plain and simple. In contrast, when Tommy shoots and kills the young apprentice, Spider, it is an act of betrayal and a senseless murder that comes frighteningly out of nowhere. Regardless of how low he sinks, Henry manages to maintain some qualities that redeem him in the eyes of the audience, namely loyalty and common sense. Tommy's violence for the sake of violence, on the other hand, makes no sense whatsoever to the reasonable person. Relatively, the audience has no choice but to choose Henry as the character that they are more able to relate to.