IN THE DIRECTOR’S CHAIR WITH MARTIN SCORSESE REVIEW: “Mean Streets” stars Harvey Keitel (Reservoir Dogs, The Grand Budapest Hotel), Robert De Niro (The Irishman , Joker), David Proval (The Shawshank Redemption, Four Rooms), Amy Robinson (A Brand New Life [TV Movie], The Neighborhood [TV Movie]), Richard Romanus (Heavy Metal, Wizards), Cesare Danova (Cleopatra, National Lampoon’s Animal House), Victor Argo (Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, King of New York), George Memmoli (Rocky, Phantom of the Paradise), Lenny Scaletta, and Jeannie Bell (TNT Jackson, Policewoman [TV series]). It is directed by Martin Scorsese (Silence , Hugo), who also wrote the screenplay with Mardik Martin (Raging Bull, Valentino). Charlie (Keitel) seeks to climb up the ladder in a local mob, but holds himself back with his friendship to Johnny Boy (De Niro), a degenerate who owes everyone money.
Now this… this is Scorsese. Originally, “Mean Streets” was not going to be featured in this marathon, but after coming across it at a dollar general one day, I couldn’t resist. At that point, I had already watched/reviewed two of his features, but what’s the harm in adding another one? Especially a film like “Mean Streets,” the film that solidified Scorsese as a filmmaker to bank on, as well as a platform to jumpstart the careers of two up-and-coming actors: Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. Good grief, they are young. I mean, of course they are. This movie was released in 1973 for crying out loud. And yet, it feels modern. The filmmaking technique, performances, and grit all have the chops to be among the usuals released in today’s cinema. While it’s become commonplace now, I’m sure it was hectic back in the early 70s. Topless women, bar fights, and owing people money. Typical Scorsese, typical monster landscape. But this was huge; Kubrick and Hitchcock were challenging cinema long before Scorsese, however with “Mean Streets,” the world of crime was given a rugged, duller look. Less glitz and glam, and more relatability. Charlie and Johnny Boy seem real because they are very much the kind of figures we see in movies to this day. Of course, that’s not to say that “Mean Streets” did mind-blowing, inventive things in cinema. Rather, it paints a picture as to what is to come from this young filmmaker with a strong passion for making features. “Boxcar Bertha” had small pinches of the Scorsese nuance, but not enough to make me believe he did it (let alone make it a good movie). With “Mean Streets” the legendary filmmaker gets his true shot at the big leagues, especially since this film takes quite a bit of inspiration from Scorsese’s childhood, growing up in a rough part of town filled with gangs and Catholicism. Is the flick good? Well, you’ll appreciate it more as a film fanatic, that’s for sure. The first act packs a punch, opening to a great monologue and introduction to the character of Charlie. From there, we meet Johnny Boy and are whisked away on a rough, experimental journey filled with interesting camera work, killer music, and a story that wavers. We all are familiar with the mob world in cinema. Everything’s been done under the sun at this point, so trying to find something you haven’t seen before in “Mean Streets” will be difficult. You’ll have to appreciate it for what it’s worth, as a leading charge to the more critically-acclaimed Scorsese works to come, as well as the inspiration to other classics (I’m sure this had to impact filmmakers at the time). I enjoyed quite a bit of aspects from this movie. The performances are solid, with an incredible entry from De Niro. Every time Johnny Boy was on the screen, he stole the show. He was the most reckless and interesting of the bunch, with Charlie running behind at a close second. I really enjoyed Keitel in this, even though I wish I got more from his character. The way this movie works is we follow a guy who is trying to watch his step in the mob world (in hopes to obtain his uncle’s business), but puts himself in danger by being connected to both Johnny Boy and his cousin (whom Charlie has romantic relations with). The conflict gives way to some solid moments and tense situations, but by the mid-way point the story runs on fumes. Dealing in the mob business for story, films typically give you objectives, however that isn’t the case with “Mean Streets.” Sure, Charlie tries to keep himself in the clear and push Johnny Boy to pay back his debtors, but the scenes where he is actually doing business with people left me wondering what his business actually entails. Maybe I need to watch it again… Regardless, the further I journeyed, the messier it seemed to get, albeit a few moments here and there that lent to some cool action or dialogue scenes. It’s far better than “Boxcar Bertha,” I can tell you that much. I just wish there were more clear-cut stakes or another motivation for Charlie that hinged on him obtaining his uncle’s business. In all honesty, “Mean Streets” really felt like Scorsese exploring what he can do with cinema, while sharpening his style. The movie succeeds in keeping me entertained, but with a story that loses steam towards the end (and a finale that makes me wonder what it all was for), I can’t say it tops the charts of Scorsese’s work. If you’re interested in seeing how these legends got their start, watch this movie. Heck, you can do it for fun as well, if you want. Just be aware that it’s got a fine set of kinks to work out. FINAL SCORE: 75%= Juicy Popcorn
Here is the trailer: