Mean Streets - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Mean Streets Reviews

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Super Reviewer
September 16, 2015
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
Super Reviewer
½ August 3, 2007
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.
Super Reviewer
June 17, 2013
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.
paul o.
Super Reviewer
½ October 20, 2012
For one of Scorcese's first, its one of his finest. The acting was great and the cinematography was raw. There is a certain feel that most Scorcese dramas have where the mood is never uplifting and the ending is uncertain. This is one of those Scorcese films.
Super Reviewer
November 29, 2011
Scorsese shows us early in his career that he is someone you can count on. Exellent begin of a awesome future. Very solid movie. A lot of very good performances. But Harvey Keitel is just wonderful.
Super Reviewer
½ October 28, 2011
Scorsese's first masterpiece, DeNiro in his first great role.
Super Reviewer
½ May 1, 2011
Scorsese's first masterpiece. Showed a little of what was to come with his crime epics Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and Casino. De Niro and Keitel are great like always, and Amy Robinson is also very good as Johnny's cousin, and Charlie's girlfriend Teresa.
Super Reviewer
½ September 11, 2010
Gritty, realistic urban drama on the Italian-American underground. The camera work and direction by Martin Scorsese are outstanding, a sign of the legend he would become in the years after Mean Streets, his breakthrough. Basically, the film follows no plot, but the stunning performances by Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro make it gripping enough.
Super Reviewer
September 5, 2010
A fantastic drama from Scorsese, the actors are great, the story is great, and I loved this movie. If you're a Scorsese fan, you have to see this one.
Super Reviewer
½ November 2, 2007
By far one of the most under-seen gangster pictures ever made, featuring tremendous lead performances from both Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro that, through the careful handling by director Martin Scorsese, make this a picture that is a riveting look at friendship, loyalty, and the crime world in general. While Keitel is definitely incredible and is completely believable as a go-getter in the mafia world, as usual, it's De Niro who is so special as a lazy, unmotivated bum who doesn't realize how much trouble he's in. His character is dangerous on so many levels, not really caring about his life or how he affects those closest to him. In Scorsese's bleak, dark take of the underbelly of New York City, redemption is no where to be found even when it appears certain characters think they see a light at the end of the tunnel. Instead, what we have here is yet another crushing look concerning horrendous individuals who don't get along with each other, and the result is something almost unbearably depressing.
Super Reviewer
December 5, 2008
"You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets..."

A small-time hood struggles to succeed on the "mean streets" of Little Italy.

Filmmaker Martin Scorsese placed himself in the echelon of top directors in his breakthrough movie about small time hoods in the seamier neighborhoods of Manhattan with Keitel as Charlie, a tough guy with some smarts and plenty of Catholic guilt and De Niro in a breakthrough performance as Keitel's loose cannon screw up Johnny Boy who shoots off his mouth more than he should. Funny dialogue (De Niro: `What am I in coffee and cake land, here?'), improvisatory feel throughout and fine camera work mingled with a retro 1960s jukebox soundtrack and always the threat of unsurpressed violence (lotsa fights!). My favorite scene is when Keitel and his boys go to the local bookie in a pool hall and get into not one but two scuffles (`Mook? Pregnant pause: `I'll give ya Mook!') Look sharp for David and Robert Carradine in an unbelievable bar shooting, Scorsese's mother helping Keitel's epileptic girlfriend Robinson and Scorsese himself as an assassin (and yes that's him in the beginning moments as Keitel's voice over'd conscience). Gritty and goofy all at once.
Super Reviewer
December 24, 2007
Love this early Scorcese classic.
Super Reviewer
November 17, 2009
An amazing movie. Everything about it screams perfection. From casting to soundrack, it is flawless. The story is simple, yet fun and emotional. It's Martin Scorsese's semi-autobiographical narrative that is so obviously close to his heart, it overflows into the screen. Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro are great together and make the viewing experience even more enjoyable.
Super Reviewer
January 6, 2009
Unpolished and gritty. Scorsese is obviously honing his craft here but it's still a fantastic piece of film making. I'm not crazy about the ending but it doesn't detract from the character of the movie. A must-see motion picture for Scorsese, Keitel & DeNiro fans alike.
Super Reviewer
½ August 3, 2006
Not his first film, but definitely the one that put Scorsese on the map. This film is overflowing with both style and substance and deep personal themes, all of which would make countless return appearances in Scorsese's later films, as well as in the works of those he inspired and influenced. I really enjoyed this film, and thought it was great, but feel deep down that I'd appreciate and love this film more had I seen it earlier. This gets major props for being a very "Catholic" film- a quality I love to see in Marty's work.
Super Reviewer
½ June 5, 2008
Martin Scorsese's first film in a genre that he would define in the following decades is also his first pairing with Robert DeNiro in Mean Streets. The film is about a group of low men on the Mafia totem pole mainly focusing on Harvey Keitel's character Chralie who ends up being pulled from three directions: his uncles business, his girl Teresa (Amy Robinson), and the lunacy of Johnny Boy (DeNiro).

Mean Streets feels almost like the test hybrid for films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas that would come as early as three years later to close to twenty. As in a lot of Scorsese pictures New York plays a role in itself. You know it's New York in the 1970's, a gritty cess pool that most Americans knew nothing about. This was a film about Scorsese's neighborhood. DeNiro is fantastic as Johnny Boy, a role he plays when he was still the hungry method actor. Where has those days gone Bob?

Mean Streets is Scorsese's first real love letter to New York and helps define his style that has been ripped off several time but never duplicated. You can feel the traffic going by, hear the band playing, and smell the mixture of marinara sauce and sewer like you were actually in Little Italy.
Super Reviewer
January 25, 2007
considered the first great film by scorsese, i love scoesese and i really dont care for this film. as unexplained, unorganized, unimportant, and lifeless as a film can be. this film is juvenille and plain, unlike scorsese's later work. it deserves some score because of its potential and the strength of its performances, but not worth while.
Super Reviewer
½ February 11, 2007
Mean Streets concerns the comings and goings of a group of small time criminals operating in the seedy under belly of New York City. It's an early Scorsese, and you can certainly see him learning his craft as the story unfolds; there are some great scenes and you can see the prototype versions of many from his coming classics. But having said that, a lot of the film is rather aimless and lacking in focus, and many of the minor supporting characters are poorly acted caricatures. It seems more concerned with capturing the characters and essence of this side of New York and often wanders off onto tangents which left me rather restless, and dare I say it, bored? Sacrilege I know, and the ending of the film is very powerful, but the journey there is rather flawed. An interesting film for Scorsese aficionados, but it will disappoint anyone expecting a classic on the same scale as the likes of Taxi Driver or Goodfellas.
Super Reviewer
January 25, 2008
This is were it all began.
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