Mean Streets Reviews
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.
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.
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.