Mean Streets (1973)



Critic Consensus: Mean Streets is a powerful tale of urban sin and guilt that marks Scorsese's arrival as an important cinematic voice and features electrifying performances from Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro.

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Movie Info

"You don't make up for your sins in church; you do it in the streets; you do it at home. The rest is bulls--t, and you know it." Returning to the autobiographical milieu of his 1968 debut Who's That Knocking at My Door? for his third feature, Martin Scorsese examined the daily struggles of a wannabe hood to keep his morals straight on the streets of Little Italy. Driven equally by his wish to become a respectable gangster like his uncle (Cesare Danova) and his desire to live his life like St. … More

Rating: R
Genre: Drama, Classics
Directed By:
Written By: Martin Scorsese, Mardik Martin
In Theaters:
On DVD: Aug 17, 2004
Warner Bros.


as Johnny Boy

as Teresa

as Giovanni

as Girl at Party

as Mario

as Assassin

as Jewish girl

as Vietnam Veteran

as Black Cop

as George

as Girl at Party

as Woman on the Landing

as Young Boy #1
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Critic Reviews for Mean Streets

All Critics (50) | Top Critics (6)

The acting and editing have such an original, tumultuous force that the picture is completely gripping.

Full Review… | March 31, 2008
Chicago Reader
Top Critic

Scorsese is exceptionally good at guiding his largely unknown cast to near-flawless recreations of types. Outstanding in this regard is De Niro.

Full Review… | March 31, 2008
Top Critic

One of the best American films of the decade.

Full Review… | February 9, 2006
Time Out
Top Critic

This marriage of indelible imagery with electric, seemingly incongruous pop songs wouldn't be bettered until, well, the next time Scorsese decided to do it.

Full Review… | April 16, 2013

Scorsese exalts cinema as the mediator of reality, memory and reverie, the demonic art that enthralls the church boy

Full Review… | March 3, 2013

Features an attention-grabbing performance by Robert De Niro, but I maintain that Harvey Keitel's excellent central performance has always been critically undervalued.

Full Review… | August 8, 2012
Creative Loafing

Audience Reviews for Mean Streets

Although Mean Streets wasn't Martin Scorsese's directorial debut it can often feel like it was. He'd already done Who's That Knocking at My Door in 1968 and Boxcar Bertha in 1972 but this was the film that not only began his illustrious collaborations with Robert DeNiro but it was his first film to delve into the gangster sub-genre and displayed all the embryonic, stylistic trademarks that he has now become synonymous with. Quite simply, Mean Streets showcased the talents of Scorsese and fully confirmed the arrival of one of the greatest American directors while becoming hugely influential on future films and filmmakers alike.

Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is a small time criminal trying to work his way up the local mafia food chain. However, his religious beliefs continually cause him to question his choices in life and as his conscience gets the better of him, so too does his misjudged loyalty to his low-life friends.

Some may find the style and fashion of this early 70's classic as dated but Scorsese's flamboyant skills and style are far from it. This was a young, relatively inexperienced director who was way ahead of his time and displayed approaches to filmmaking that are now taken for granted. That said, when you look back at Mean Streets and consider just how early Scorsese delivered this, it still packs a punch and is, without doubt, one of the best and most impressive films from the decade.

Following on the heals of Francis Ford Coppola's sweeping crime classic The Godfather in 1972, Scorsese took us to a more personal, working class criminal environment. It feels raw, even claustrophobic, when compared to Coppola's epic proportions. The characters in Scorsese's tale are more real and easier to identify with. They're not throwing elaborately expensive weddings or severing horse's heads to send messages, they're just trying to get by, day to day, and turn a coin from whatever petty criminal activity comes their way.

At it's core, it's anchored by two excellent performances: Keitel shoulders the brunt of the film's narrative as Charlie; basically a good guy who has chosen a life of crime that leaves him in a tortured state due to his religious upbringing and near constant state of catholic guilt. He struggles with the choices he makes in life and struggles even more with those of his self-destructive friend, Johnny Boy, played with real electric verve by a young DeNiro. Even though Keitel delivers a solid lead performance, it's DeNiro's recklessness that really stands out. There's not a moment where he doesn't command your attention with his maniacal and random fits of rage and immaturity.

As this proved to be the moment that Scorsese came to everyone's attention, it done the same for DeNiro. His improvisation and natural ability does, in front of the camera, what Scorsese was doing behind it. Both of their work seems to mirror and compliment one another and this became the birthing of one of cinema's greatest, long term, partnerships.

Mark Walker

Mark Walker

Super Reviewer


If I was a Scorsese devotee this would be a higher grade but the film does have a fantastically gritty feeling and tremendous acting by Keitel and De Niro.

jay nixon

Super Reviewer

Martin Scorsese is one of the undisputed masters of gangster cinema. His genre films are raw, gritty, intense and unforgettable. Before he filmed Taxi Driver, he directed Mean Streets, one of the finest gangster pictures of the 1970's. This is a powerful picture and is a must see for Scorsese fans. With a great cast at his disposal, Scorsese crafts a film with a well executed plot that is engaging from start to finish. Mean Streets seems a bit overlooked due to the fact that Scorsese would go on to direct other more well known crime films such as Goodfellas and Casino, but with Mean Streets you clearly see a director who knows how to make a movie that can captivate the viewer. Mean Streets is one of the finest crime films that I have seen, and with a great cast that deliver some stunning performances, this is a finely crafted film that only Scorsese could pull off. Along with The Godfather, this is a memorable addition to the gangster genre, and is a must watch for genre fans. Mean Streets boasts a compelling story that redefined the genre. Robert DeNiro and Harvey Keitel are great here, and make the film what it is by delivering some standout performances. If you love classic crime films in the vein of The Godfather, then you're sure to enjoy this film. Mean Streets is a standout crime picture that showcases Martin Scorsese's directing talents perfectly. Crime films are often hard to pull off, but Scorsese always seems to create something worthwhile to watch. He is clearly at ease in the genre, and he is always at the top of his game when making a picture due to the fact that he is affine filmmaker.

Alex roy

Super Reviewer

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