Orson Welles said that a director's first film was always his best because he would put more into it and hadn't got into bad habits like developing a style yet. Mean Streets may not be Scorsese's first film, but it otherwise bears out Welles' words. Set in New York's Little Italy, Harvey Keitel plays Michael, who exists on the fringes of crime and whose dreams of managing a restaurant his money-lending uncle is about to take over are threatened by his affair with his epileptic cousin (Amy Robinson) and his terminally unreliable childhood friend Johnny Boy's pressing debts.
As with Goodfellas, it is plot-lite and style heavy, but where in the latter the style dominated, here it has a rough-cut and ready-dubbed feel that energises the film and accurately reflects the precarious state of the characters, be it financial, mental or moral. All the trademarks are here - the tracking shots down bars, the sudden explosions of violence, a popular music soundtrack that exists as much within the film as over it, the concern with incompatibility of religion with everyday life - but here they are fresh and integral to the film rather than carefully stage-managed.
If De Niro's unstable Johnny Boy now looks a bit too much like barnstorming with many of the tricks he has since pretty much worn out through over-use, Keitel's diplomatic lead and the astonishingly natural performances from the supporting cast are the real glue that holds the film together and convince us we are eavesdropping on real lives.
Filled with astonishing moments Mean Streets remains one of the few key American films of the early Seventies that still grabs your undivided attention with none of its original power diluted by time and imitation.
Mean Streets is directed by Martin Scorsese who also co-writes the screenplay with Mardik Martin. It stars Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, David Proval, Amy Robinson, Richard Romanus and Cesare Danova. Plot finds Keitel as Charlie, a young Italian-American crook trying to work his way up the New York Mafia scene. But his way is blocked by Catholic guilt and his obligation to take care of loose cannon pal Jonny Boy (De Niro), who is in debt to hoods and doesn't seem to care.
A film of significant firsts. It would begin the Scorsese/De Niro relationship that served cinema so well and it laid the foundation for Scorsese's hoodlum filmic empire. Viewing Mean Streets now is an odd experience, for although there are some great things to sample, the piece undeniably seminal in the history of American cinema, it also plays as a pretty straight forward film. There are no surprises in store, the trajectory of characterisations runs true and goes exactly where you expect it too. Had I personally watched it upon release in 1973 I'm sure I would have been a bit more awed, but it very much feels over-rated now, with some critical appraisals of it appearing to pump it up more because of its importance than for any narrative quality.
As Scorsese goes for gritty realism, the story at the core lacks vibrancy. It's only when De Niro (jumping-bean) as borderline nutter Jonny Boy is doing his nutter Jonny Boy thing, does the picture actually perk up. The roll call of characters aren't engaging since they aren't fleshed out, the girl characters are badly written and the key bar-room brawl is very unconvincing. On the outside the picture is ace, opening our eyes to a scuzzy Little Italy, Scorsese a master at portraying an environment he knows so well, but it's all polish with no actual substance underneath. Tech credits are high, camera work, lighting and sound-tracking, all carry the hallmarks of future classics, but these things ultimately avert your gaze from the simplicity walking the streets down below.
Raw and decidedly honest film making, but weighted down by desperately trying to pulse with religious musings, Mean Streets could have been the masterpiece some have made it out to be. It's not, it has weaknesses that we shouldn't be blind too, even if it does showcase some incredible talents that were about to enter the annals of cinema history. 7/10
on 2 January 2010
Robert Deniro plays a footloose, lazy and irresponsible small-timer who gets into financial bother he can't get out from. Harvey Keitel plays the well-connected and well-liked gangster who tries his best to get Deniro out of trouble.
Mean Streets does not have a constructive storyline; it merely shows events taking place in the life of small time gangsters in New York. It operates in a subtle way, making us aware of something rather than answering questions with regards to issues concerned. Its good to see Deniro in one of his early roles, but the story focuses more on Keitel whose performance is outstanding.
This is an important film for many reasons. This is the first major motion picture from Scorsese, where he introduces his unique style of directing and camera-work, which must have seemed so refreshing at the time of its release. It was far more compelling than anything else made at the time. The documentary style works well in telling a realistic and gritty story, this film-making process became a 70's trademark in years to come. 70's cinema is an important decade in film, as it was a time of social change in America which gave rise to a new breed of talent e.g. Francis Ford Coppola, William Friedkin etc. Mean Streets sits firmly as one of the first iconic films of that decade (the other is French Connection).
It is also an important film for anyone who is a fan of Scorsese or a serious fan of film itself. The narrative in his future films (Taxi Driver, Casino, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas) is similar to that of Mean Streets, and it's interesting to see that Scorsese carried the same style, but to better effect in his future projects. The fact that his future films are deemed as classics makes Mean Streets even more compelling. Look at it as an experiment; Mean Streets is the basis for Scorsese's future projects, just like Panic in the Needle Park was for Al Pacino. In Mean Streets we get early flashes of genius from the directors' director.
It was also the start of a healthy partnership between Robert Deniro and Scorsese, Deniro's performance is that good it makes you realise why he continued to work with Scorsese, and produce more outstanding films.
The DVD itself does not live up to the title of a `special edition' as it does not have many bonus features at all. The short featurette is the original one made at the time of the films release and shows Scorsese on a personal level, but is far too short in length. The informative commentary remains the only other feature and is worth checking out overall. The most redeeming feature of all is the restored picture and sound quality as it's a vast improvement compared to the films previous release. Although this is not a real feature in itself, it is welcome relief as Mean Streets did require a makeover, and thus anyone thinking of purchasing the film should go for this special edition and not the old release.
In my opinion Scorsese is the greatest director ever. In the last 30 years he has maintained the quality in all his films, and tackled subjects others wouldn't dare. His films are highly personal, oozing with class and kinetic energy. The only other director who comes close is Francis Ford Coppola who made four stunning films in the 70's (Godfather, Godfather Part 2, Apocalypse Now and The Conversation). However since then Coppola has faltered, but Scorsese continued to shine with modern classics such as Goodfellas.
on 8 March 2005
'Mean Streets' is, in my opinion, one of Martin Scorsese's best, if not THE best, film he has made. It's the film that established him as a unique film director, and it's an absolute must-buy!
Scorsese's 'Mean Streets' was released in between the two Godfather epics in 1973, and although it shared with the Godfather a passion for Italian-American gangsters, 'Mean Streets' went a completely different way and focused on the everyday lives of gangsters when they mess about, get drunk, shoot some pool, etc. Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, a man who has dreams of moving up in the world; his uncle, a big player in the New York underworld, has plans for Charlie, but Charlie is prevented from rising due to his friendship with Johnny Boy, a 'bum' who gets Charlie into a lot of trouble. When Johnny Boy continues to avoid paying a large loan back to Charlie's friend Michael, things take a dramatic turn for the worse...
Everything about this movie is brilliant. The acting, especially Keitel and Robert De Niro as Johnny Boy, is amazing; it's unbelievable to think that the following year De Niro would win an Oscar for playing the young Vito Corleone, a character that is miles apart from the unstable Johnny Boy - his performance clearly shows what a talent De Niro is. Critics have argued that the plot is too weak and thin, yet I believe it's exactly the opposite: the film is rich in detail (a Scorsese trademark), and the movie addresses Charlie's Catholic guilt - he wants to move up in the underworld, but he fears he will be punished in hell if he does not look after the crazy Johnny Boy. Charlie is torn between the Church, Johnny Boy, and his uncle - you can see why 'Mean Streets' is anything BUT thin!
But the main attraction of the film is Scorsese's direction. You can see how 'Goodfellas', 'Pulp Fiction', 'The Sopranos', etc. came about thanks to 'Mean Streets' - it looks gritty, the fight scenes are chaotic, and very rude language dominates the film. And despite its low budget, Scorsese makes the film look very realistic, along with his trademark rock 'n' roll soundtrack scoring the movie.
The film is like a fast rollercoaster; the camera never stops moving, and it's never boring. I would recommend 'Mean Streets' to every Scorsese and gangster fan as well as most film buffs, because not only is it a fantastic movie, but it's one of the most influential movies in American cinema, and I urge you to buy it! NOW!!
It's hard to believe that "Mean Streets" is 40 years old and I'm seeing it for the first time. It still packs a punch, mainly because of the acting of Harvey Keitel, Robert de Niro, and an excellent cast -- then there's the fast pacing, the distinctive camera work, the gritty dialogue. The Mob here is altogether on a lower-socio-economic level than was to be the case with "The Godfather" a few years later. Here, we're in the world of small clubs, small-time gambling, and relatively small time loan-sharking. There's not much glamor. But it's the world in which Charlie (Keitel) and Johnny Boy (De Niro) have grown up and it's the one that provided them with their images of masculine behavior. Keitel looks up to, and seems to want to emulate, his uncle Giovanni, a ruthless, elegant minor don (played with chilling sang-froid by Cesare Danova), who is all too ready to throw members of his family under the bus if they disturb the efficiency of his organization. Thus he warns Charlie to stay away from Johnny Boy and his cousin Teresa, because Johnny Boy is borderline psychotic and Teresa has epilepsy. But Johnny Boy is an old friend with huge (for him) gambling debts, and Charlie loves Teresa, and he can't help looking out for them and trying to help them. This impulse to help is a result of Charlie's Catholic beliefs -- he is a person with a sense that his life should have a spiritual meaning, and the idea of hell is one he takes seriously. The film suggests, with all the fires and explosions that we see, that he doesn't realize that he pretty much is in hell already -- but he keeps trying, at great cost to Teresa and himself.
What the movie also catches, thanks to its male leads, is the sense that Charlie and Johnny Boy are still barely out of adolescence -- they can go from affection to roughhousing to serious violence and back very quickly, and with Teresa Charlie goes from affection that he can hardly express to insult in just seconds. These boys want to be men but don't know how -- is it guns or sex or self-control? Charlie is still figuring it out as he strives to please everybody, God included, with the result that hardly any of his good deeds go unpunished.
Grounding the movie are the scenes on the mean streets themselves -- the shabbiness, the noise, the casual profanity and racism, the ever-readiness to violence, the cops who are casually bought off. Work is either with the mob or gambling, it seems, and the sense of life being something of a game of chance is very strong, Charlie's religious instincts notwithstanding. What Charlie doesn't realize is that he's temperamentally at odds with the very world that he looks to to affirm his worth as a man. That makes him close to a tragic figure in this engrossing movie that set Scorsese, Keitel, and De Niro all on their ways to become film icons.
on 1 August 2000
This film is a beaut for several reasons, the realisation of Scorsese as a master of his art, a great portrayal of the manic johnny boy by De Niro and a masterfully understated performance by Keitel as the lead. The linear storyline may put people off but it is a film to persevere with, it is a real slice of life in the eyes of a small time hood, much more than the slicker 'Goodfellas'. To any scorsese fan i implore you to become familiar with this film, which would rank among his best
on 4 August 2004
This is an overlooked and underrated masterpiece from genius Martin Scorsese. Obviously made on a low budget with (at the time)budding actors Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro this is a genuine, gritty and grainy depiction of Italian-American inner city life. The vast majority of the film is set in bars and backrooms or in dark streets and alleys, filmed with a handheld camera that occasionally sways, pursues running characters or makes use of other obscure techniques that sometimes make the film so real that you think you are watching a documentary.
It is the stark realities, the slim budget and the improvisational work and looseness of the plot that makes 'Mean Streets' so shockingly real in tone and much more aggressive and emotional than 'Goodfellas' or 'The Godfather'. The characters are amongst the most evocative and human ever committed to film, they are like real people summoned up from the lives of the director and the actors.
Harvey Keitel is brilliant as Charlie, a young man with power and respect in his neighbourhood, yet also privately troubled by his faith and his conflicting compassionate nature which involves loving his epileptic girlfriend his uncle has forbidden him to see and supporting and helping her irredemable and troublesome cousin Johnny Boy.
De Niro plays Johnny Boy to perfection: laughing, jeering and fighting, really a young man in desperate need of support (which Charlie offers) but ultimately remains the insensitive idiot fool that leads to his downfall. Johnny Boy is the central focus of 'Mean streets', and he is so tempestuous and troubled and so naive and a fabulously watchable character.
It is said 'Mean Streets' lacks a tangible plot but I don't view this as a criticism. The film is an intimate painting of troubled city life that explores a number of very powerful themes in its 2 hrs. What does exist of the plot is a very simple story of unpaid debts and eventual violence, but the setting, the charcters dilemmas and the relationships between the charcaters is what makes the film so fantastically gritty and dangerously real and disturbing. There is vast space for Scorsese to throw in witty, humorous dialogue, extreme character development scenes, a vast music score (alternating between popular music of the time and Italian operetta style) and extreme violence and obscenely good camera work.
'Mean streets' is a college of beautiful scenes and characters, it is violent, touching and funny. The best scene is the improvised piece between Johnny Boy (De Niro) and Charlie (Keitel) five or ten minutes in when they discuss Johnny Boy's debts. Ten times more powerful than the disappointing 'Goodfellas' and 'Raging Bull's' earlier equal. However, I would suggest watching 'Raging Bull', 'Goodfellas' or 'Taxi Driver' to summon up the mainstream essence of Scorsese and De Niro's work before watching this more underground and different film.
This is one of the most important movies of the 70's, released after The Godfather, and whilst probably not as good a film, I think it has been far more influential on other filmmakers - Tarantino for one. This is Scorcese's first masterpiece and rewards repeated viewings. The film is loosely based on Scorcese's own upbringing in little Italy.
The cast are perfection. Harvey Keital and Robert DeNiro spark brilliantly off each other, helped by a fabulous script and I believe some improvisation as well. Noteably the scene in the back of the bar "you mean last Tuesday". The dialogue in this film is marvellous and occasionally it is intentionally funny as well.
Prior to this film Scorcese had made some interesting films but none of them had his stamp on them. Mean Streets comes straight in out of nowhere as a fully fledged masterpiece:
The use of music when Johnny enters the bar; Its done in slow motion to the Stones Jumpin' Jack Flash.
The use of colour.
The drunk scene, not very long, but perhaps the best ever done. The camera (some sort of steadycam) faces Harvey Keital and we are staggering around with him, until eventually he falls over and passes out on the floor - the camera goes with him.
The wonderful fight sequence in the pool room over being called a "Mook"; when nobody knows what a Mook is...
Look out for Scorcese in an uncredited cameo role as Jimmy Shorts, and also for David Carradine as a drunk.
This is essential for any movie collection.
on 24 September 2012
You may find it hard to believe, or accuse me of having a warped sense of humour, but regardless of the mood I am in, or the type of day I have had, one scene in this movie has me laughing out loud. Of course I am referring to the 'Mook Scene'. An argument over a hat, a pair of sneakers and a drink turns into one of the funniest fight scenes in movie history. De Niro is epic in the film as the young, mentally unstable Johnny Boy, whilst Keitel oozes class - like a darker version of the Fonz!
To be honest, if you are too tight to buy something that costs less than a pint of beer, then you really shouldnt be here....... You Mook! ;)
on 6 September 2010
Reasons why this is my favourite film (I've watched it around 30 times in 2 or 3 years):
* It's as authentic as Martin Scorsese ever gets. He lived this film and you get that from the first minute. He also wrote it, which is pretty unusual for a Scorsese film.
* The opening quote: "You don't make up for your sins in church. You do it in the streets. You do it at home. The rest is BS and you know it".
* The opening titles over 1970's family home videos. I love it, and the song too, 'Be my Baby'. Any time you hear that song after watching this film you see Charlie's head hit the pillow and the credits start up. The wall of sound music makes me well up, in a happy way. Note: Martin Scorsese appears (young and sporting a very '70's hairstyle) for a fraction of a second during these. You only see him if you spend five minutes looking for it by using the the pause or slow button on your remote control!
* The end scene (CAR CHASE! YES!). I'm not giving anything away here, but it was a scene that became an influence and source of admiration for many directors for a reason. Unforgettable.
* There's not a speck of filler in this film, even during the laid back moments in bars. It's lean and mean.
* It's also hilarious. People often miss the fact that Scorsese films are rich in humour and often very quotable (e.g. "Mook? I'm a mook? What's a mook? I'll give you mook!" *thump* N.B. A mook is a kind of bigmouth, all talk and no substance).
* The semi-docudrama look. I often prefer this style to high-budget gloss.
* The fact that it's not only a realistic portrayal of gangster life (supposedly, I wouldn't know) but a rich and deeply felt portrayal of a community. The people of this community don't chase violence - violence seems to follow directly after them. Scorsese's dubious glamourisation of thugs, thieves and killers would come later.
* Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro both give excellent performances. De Niro shines in one of his greatest early moments - he just doesn't get more entertaining than this. Keitel proves that he can be both macho and sympathetic, and, importantly, that he can equal De Niro in the acting department. I would actually say that Keitel is the better actor in this movie due to his his understatement. Of course a quieter performance doesn't automatically mean a better one, but here you can tell that De Niro is trying to outdo Keitel through a little overacting. But Keitel's performance, in my opinion, is less manic and more thoughtful, insightful. You sense his guilt and frustration without seeing him explode completely. It's more heartfelt. You feel his pain growing throughout the movie. Having said that, De Niro is still very convincing despite being occasionally over the top and certainly delivers in the entertainment department. 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' indeed.
* 1970's New York. The grime, crime, streets, real people, their experiences, the city at night, atmosphere, mob, clothes, fashions, haircuts, the looks and sounds, Brooklyn Bridge at night, I could go on. It's fascinating and exciting despite (or due to) its being shadowy, sleazy and gritty. I'm 28 years old and British but this film makes me feel like I was there. Remember this quote from Once Upon a Time in America? Noodles: "I like the stink of the streets. It makes me feel good. And I like the smell of it, it opens up my lungs"! (also played by Robert De Niro). You don't just see and hear this film, you can almost breathe it in and choke on the car exhaust fumes.
* The music. Songs by The Rolling Stones are used to great effect, though the whole film is a jukebox of eclectic music from many eras. My favourite: a rare hard-to-find version of 'Steppin' Out' by Cream, played over the car chase. Terrific choice, the electric guitar (Eric Clapton of course) is on fire! And if you enjoy Neapolitan love songs, there are many in this film too. If you don't, you soon will! God I wish they'd make a complete soundtrack compilation of some of these tracks as they already have with other Scorsese movies. As yet I still can't find one anywhere. If anyone has any information on this (outside of searching for individual songs from YouTube) I'd love to know, especially the complete 'Steppin' Out' track. Big Cream fan.
* The classic quotes. "What's da matter wi' me? What's da matter wiCHOO?" Never gets old.
* The use of a live (and rare) rendition of Steppin' Out by Cream over the car chase. Did I say that already? Well, it's great.
* The very last song. It's a corny old Italian/Sicilian tune sung by a group of very patriotic amateurs, and I always find myself listening to it until the end credits are completely finished rolling.
* The Sicilian/Italian American accents.
* It made me want to learn Italian! I did learn Italian. I sucked, but I tried.
* It runs at the pace it wants to, i.e. it can be slow. But this isn't a story you can shoot through like a bullet, it needs your attention if you want to appreciate it at all. If you have attention deficit disorder don't bother. If you want a movie with a quick buildup of pace, a truckload of special effects and sounds that blast at you crudely like insane foghorns, watch Shutter Island or something like it. If you want a good story with engaging and complex characters, watch this - twice at least.
Overall an excellent film for Scorsese admirers, movie buffs, cineastes e.t.c, but also great entertainment for any 'layman'.