One of the things that I love the most about watching the old classics is when you can so clearly see the beginnings of what later became such trademarks of a director, actor, even a genre. Martin Scorsese begins a long line of films about the gangs of New York with Mean Streets, a gritty look at the underside of New York City that foreshadowed much of the same stark realism portrayed in Taxi Driver a few years later. It reminds me of the minimalist realism of films like Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing, another urban classic.Robert DeNiro plays Johnny Boy, the fast talking kid who owes <more>
money all over town and never seems to care to pay anyone back. We meet other characters who owe people money, and their apologies at not being able to pay are genuine, they realize that they're not going to get late fees added to their debt or Last Notices, they're putting their lives on the line. There is genuine fear on their side and genuine malice on the side of the people they owe money to, but Johnny Boy just doesn't seem to care.Harvey Keitel plays Charlie Cappa, who is constantly trying to get Johnny Boy to shape up and pay off what he owes, knowing the danger that he is in and frustrated at Johnny's lack of interest or care in the fact that he owes so many people so much money. Johnny and Charlie live in the same environment but completely different worlds. Johnny holds himself in and laughs everything off, occasionally venting his frustration in quick bursts of violence, Charlie is much more contained but is tormented spiritually. While Johnny gets himself into endless debt with people that collect by any means necessary, Charlie goes to confession and holds his fingers over flames to remind himself of the dangers of the afterlife should he mess up in this one. Catholicism is a major character in this film.The movie is set in New York City in the late 1960s, where Scorsese grew up in presumably something of a similar environment. Something must have gone differently, since he ended up one of the most famous directors in the world rather than dead like so many characters in his movies do, but he creates this environment in Mean Streets that gives an incredible view into the dangers of the life that so many people lived and continue to live there. I've never even been to New York, but having seen so many of Scorsese's films I think I can understand why the environment could have had such an impact on him that it dominated most of his career as a filmmaker.There are some classic scenes in this movie that would have been much more widely quoted were it not for the even more quotable lines from Taxi Driver. Mean Streets, for example, is where you find the classic speech by Robert DeNiro, I'll call it the "I borrow money from everybody so I owe everybody money so I can't borrow money no more so I borrow money from you because you're the only jerkoff around here that I can borrow money without paying back!" speech. I love that one, especially the expression on his face, he's having such a great time.But considering the world that he lives in, it's almost understandable the way he cares so little about placing himself in danger. In a life as bleak and unpromising as the one that is portrayed in this movie, it is to be expected that someone will display passive suicidal behavior. Johnny knows he's never going to go to college, he's never going to be a doctor or a businessman or drive a nice car, he's going to grow up working menial jobs and live an obscure and meaningless life, in his eyes, and that's what the movie's about.Charlie seems to have similar feelings, looking to the Catholic Church not only as a means of salvation and spiritual fulfillment but for meaning as well. Granted, that is a very common goal for people getting involved with religion of any kind, but even more in Charlie's case. He is certainly the level-headed one between him and Johnny, but his future is not a whole lot brighter. Regardless of how much more responsible Charlie is than Johnny or how hard he tries to get Johnny to straighten out and pay off his debts, they both live in the same world, and so do their debtors. It is a world that is described in the lyrics of one of the songs in the movie "Have you ever had a wish sandwich? It's the kind where you take two pieces of bread and wish you had some meat."
This film has been overshadowed with all the praise heaped on other Martin Scorcese/Robert De Niro films, but this is a classic which is as good as Casino or Goodfellas. It's more rough around the edges and less tightly plotted than those films, but less cold hearted, and De Niro and Keitel are amazing in these early roles. The sense of tension and danger towards the end, when the situation is spinning out of control, is done perfectly. You can see the influence of this in the films of Danny Boyle and especially Quentin Tarantino. A must for Scorcese/De Niro fans.
How it all began (by TheMan3051)
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.Watching this movie is like watching birth. This movie is the birth of the Scorsese style. Many of what you see here is later translated into other Scorsese pictures. The style helps this low budget movie captivate audiences with originality and a great story. ****out of****stars
early Scorsese masterpiece (by dave fitz)
Mean Streets was a brilliant early film by Martin Scorsese. It was his first ever collaboration with Robert DeNiro. Their very successful partnership has produced some of the best movies ever made: Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and Casino. It also helped launch Harvey Keitel to stardom.Keitel as Charlie and DeNiro as Johnny Boy deliver great performances. Scorsese's direction is strong. Even close to 30 years ago, these three men show the talent which would eventually place them among the very best in the business. Scorsese uses a great selection of popular music in Mean Streets <more>
and that has become a trademark of his.Mean Streets easily ranks with Scorsese's best. 9/10
For Most Directors This Would Be Their Peak... For Scorsese It's a START! (by hokeybutt)
MEAN STREETS 4+ outta 5 stars Maybe the film doesn't look like so much these days... since most of the story techniques, film stylings and intense performances have been re-done and over-done to the point of cliche... but when I first saw this movie... WHAM! I was blown away! And, now having seen it some half a dozen or more times, I still find it riveting... the dialogue, the camerawork, the way music is utilized... just brilliant! Martin Scorsese directs the first big, big film for Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro... they all did great work here... and, incredibly, got even BETTER as <more>
years went by. Keitel plays the good Catholic who feels the need to look out for crazy psycho punk Johnny Boy DeNiro who is in debt to every loan shark in town... and shows no signs of paying any of them back. Fabulous quotes galore... most of them laden with profanity: "I f*** you right where you breathe!" "What's a mook?" "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*** and you know it."
The start of one of the best movie partnerships. (by pedroborges-90881)
A amazing movie that talk about friends, family, business, and conflicts over religion.Scorsese capture in a excellent way the New York of that time and also start to show the world what he could do, and Robert De Niro steal all the scenes he was in, giving one of his best performances in his career at a time when few people know who he was. Harvel Keitel also give a good performance as a man in conflict with his attitudes, his work and the prejudices of the time.One of the best films of the 70's and a masterpiece of cinema with one of the best director and actor of all time.
This movie is not just a good movie - It also is the movie which helped form the foundation of Martin Scorsese's later pictures. (by Malte006)
Mean Streets "I f*uck you right where you breathe" Directed by Martin Scorsese 1973 Mean Streets came out in 1973 after Scorsese almost had the script under development in a decade. This is one of his first personal movies, describing the raw environment in the streets of Little Italy in NYC. We follow Charlie in the leading role and the bunch of guys around him. The hustler Johnny Boy owes a lot of money to the loan shark Tony and doesn't make his payments to him. Charlie now tries to work out a deal with Tony and is trying to get Johnny Boy to pull himself together, even <more>
though this looks like an impossible mission.Scorsese's first motion picture Who's That Knocking at My Door and Mean Streets have many resemblances and contain the typical trademarks that Scorsese is now well known for. He almost always makes a character study of the life of lonely men, who are trying to get the best out of their situation in the asphalt jungle. Hustling, working, drinking, taking drugs etc. are very typical things to do for the persons appearing in his movies.Mean Streets is photographed mostly with a hand hold camera, which helps create a raw look that fits pretty good to this environment. Also the movie doesn't contain an actual score. Actually songs from the director's personal music collection do work as the background music. The plot is this picture is only secondary. This is like many of Scorsese's other movie primarily a character driven story with a raw environment description.The movie marks the start of one of the greatest director/actor collaborations ever! The role of Johnny Boy was Robert De Niro's role in a Scorsese picture, and later on he went to bigger leading roles under the director, which gave them both the reputation that they have today. Also this is Harvey Keitel's second leading role in a Scorsese picture, but after this movie Keitel and De Niro kind switched roles see Taxi Driver .This movie is not just a good movie - It also is the movie which helped form the foundation of Martin Scorsese's later pictures.8/10
Although Martin Scorsese had made a few movies before Mean Streets, this was the film that brought him critical acclaim for the first time in a big way and this was the film that showcased the birth of a master with a unique sense of style and cinematic language. The screenplay for Mean Streets written by Scorsese and Mardik Martin was based on a story idea by Scorsese himself. He really wanted to make a film about the life that he himself was very familiar with coming from an Italian-American neighbourhood. The film certainly feels very personal and has to be a cinematic reflection of his <more>
early life and experiences.I think a comparison between Mean Streets and two other Scorsese gangster films namely Goodfellas and Casino is interesting. While all the three do come under the bracket of gangster films, but I think Mean Streets is significantly distinct from Goodfellas and Casino in the way it is structured. Goodfellas is very tightly structured and the narrative always moves in a very specific direction. Mean Streets on the other hand is very loosely structured. The screenplay doesn't have a lot happening in it and the narrative is very episodic in nature. Scorsese uses this loose and episodic narrative structure to his benefit as it helps him to really pay attention to and develop the characters that make up the film. Charlie and Johnny Boy's relationship serves as the backbone of the film, but in reality Mean Streets is Charlie's story. The film is about him, his insecurity, his religious ideas, his friends, his neighbourhood, his family and last but by no means least, his guilt. Although Scorsese introduces all the boys of the neighbourhood i.e. Charlie, Tony, Michael and Tony with their own individual scenes that established them as the guys we will follow, but in reality we actually get inside the mind of only Charlie. Charlie is a fascinating character. Right from the first shot of the film, we get to be aware of the fact that he is a devout Christian and he really fears the prospect of having to pay for all the sins of crime that he has committed. Unlike his other friends, he is respectful of people and has a heart. He is respectful of the lord, but wants to serve penance in his own way which is to help the wild and slightly dimwitted Johnny Boy. He wants to save Johnny Boy and in turn get saved himself by God. He actually confronts many instances where he can choose what he wants and what is good for him, but we see him repeatedly choosing the opposite. He is attracted to the black dancer, but the collective racism of his friends prevents him from approaching her. He can get together with Teresa, leave this life and this neighbourhood, but he doesn't and cites the prospect of owning a restaurant which his uncle dangled in front of him as the reason to not go away. Like his other friends in the locality, Charlie is also plagued by a firm sense of insecurity. He knows that the life he leads is not ideal and he knew as a devout Christian that he will pay, but he is fearful of going out of this neighbourhood and going somewhere where he is not a big-shot. So he in his mind manipulates things to satisfy himself that by doing good for Johnny Boy, he is serving his penance without having to leave this life. So although in an explicit sense the bond between Charlie and Johnny looks pure with a firm foundation of brotherhood, in a way Charlie does all he does for Johnny mainly because of selfish reasons and his personal desire to serve penance and get 'saved'. Ironically it's this desperation to save Johnny Boy that brings Charlie down. These complexities in Charlie work majorly because Scorsese in his storytelling doesn't judge Charlie. He is presented as a normal person with flaws.Even at such an early stage in his career, we can see Scorsese experimenting extensively here with new and fresh ideas and techniques for the time. There are so many examples of fantastic filmmaking like the super 8 footage during the opening credits with the Ronettes' 'Be My Baby', the long Steadicam shot when Charlie enters the bar dancing with the Rolling Stones' 'Tell Me' playing at the back, Johnny Boy's entrance in the film with 'Jumpin' Jack Flash' playing, etc. I also love how Scorsese shoots all the scenes in Tony's bar in striking red neon light giving the bar a hellish look. I don't think the film is flawless. The editing in a few scenes is a bit choppy which is expected from a young filmmaker. There is an extended scene in the bar where a Vietnam Veteran is given a party. I thought that scene went on for a little too long and became a little too flashy and self-indulgent. Apart from that, the film is brilliantly directed.All the actors perform well but clearly the headliners are Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. Keitel is absolutely brilliant in expressing the inner guilt and the complex and sometimes conflicting emotions distressing him along with his desperation to help out Johnny Boy. Robert De Niro in his first of many collaborations with Scorsese is absolutely dynamite as Johnny Boy. The manic eccentricity that De Niro gives to the character is highly impressive. Mean Streets isn't about the plot. It's about the characters and mainly about Charlie. It's about a character who is well aware of the fact that the life he leads is not ideal. But just like the boys in Fellini's 'I Vitelloni', the fear of exploring the unknown prevents him from abandoning the life he knows to pursue something new. Mean Streets gives us an glimpse of the beginning of one of the greatest filmmaking careers in all of film history.
'Mean Streets' is Martin Scorcese's edgy breakthrough, reminiscent of Tarantino's 'Reservoir Dogs' & its exciting freshness Keitel appearing in both , two young directors who became the epitome of cool, though bigger budgets does not necessarily mean better films, i.e. 'Casino', which feels superficial & bloated in comparison to this gritty but soulful first work where neither criminality or violence are glamorised as you sometimes feel they are in his later work stylised, balletic . At least though, Scorcese hasn't become a parody of himself <more>
unlike QT.'The Mean Streets' are the streets of New York's Little Italy district, - the streets of Scorcese's early youth, 'mean' because they can corrupt & brutalise a man's soul. In this brutish world of violence, rigid social codes racism & machismo, young hood, Charlie Harvey Keitel , intuitively strives towards something purer. This religious dimension is shown at the beginning where Charlie holds his hand over a burning candle in a church where he ponders over the nature of pain physical & spiritual . We are allowed an insight into Charlie's mind through his narration, thus privy to his private inner being.Charlie is a young man in torment with his world literally becoming hell such as the club Charlie & his associates hang out at, subterranean & shot through with a red hue. In one of the best scenes when Charlie & his associates have a lock-in, a swirling camera captures his disorientated state of mind as if he is on a carousel from which he cannot get off. Some of the images of this film are startling such as the lion kept in a cage. It is surprisingly tender with its hoodlum owner. What does it mean? Is it an allusion to the tenderness within Charlie? Charlie seeks transcendence redemption through his friendship & misplaced loyalty with Johnny Boy, a startling performance of frenetic energy & nervous tension by de Niro & his love affair with a local girl Terese, who suffers from epilepsy. He first glimpses her through a window, literally a glimpse into another possibility & kind of life away from the streets, but insecurity & the lure of this easy life pull Charlie back.The film concentrates on Charlie's life & his relationships in a loose structure that suits the film's more reflective moments. Why does Charlie feel such loyalty towards Johnny Boy? It wasn't clear to me, though avik-basu1889's perceptive review explained matters excellently, the religious element in how Charlie attempts to save himself by trying to save Johnny Boy but ironically damns himself.Charlie's life is riven by conflict & divided loyalties, between his Uncle, a local criminal bigwig, who disapproves of his girlfriend, & his criminal associates who are shown disrespect by Johnny Boy. Trouble follows Johnny Boy wherever he goes as he lashes out physically & verbally, literally walking on the edge. An early scene where Charlie & his associates go to collect a gambling debt descends into farce because of Johnny Boy's provocative behaviour. In a milieu where men cannot be seen to lose face for fear of being perceived as weak, Johnny Boy's increasingly erratic behaviour can only lead to a violent outcome.Scorcese's triumph is to give a young hoodlum, depth & spiritual complexity, that beneath the bluster & street swagger lies doubt & moral compromise.