Mean Streets (1973)

Genres - Crime  |   Sub-Genres - Urban Drama, Coming-of-Age, Crime Drama, Gangster Film  |   Run Time - 110 min.  |   Countries - USA  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Mean Streets was not Martin Scorsese's first film, but it was the first one that really mattered, an alternately troubling and exhilarating look at one man's obsessions and at a subculture that other movies rarely examine beneath the surface. Scorsese's fascination with sin, redemption, guilt, and crime first bore real fruit in Mean Streets, and in many ways Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is the ultimate Scorsese character: a sincere Catholic who, as a low-level gangster, has chosen to live outside the laws of God and Man, and who tries to find a penance and personal moral code that will mean something to him. Charlie's inner turmoil underscores the film's every movement, as his loyalties are torn among the church, his boss Giovanni (Cesare Danova), his irresponsible best friend Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro), and his epileptic girlfriend Teresa (Amy Robinson). Meanwhile, Scorsese and his camera revel in the details of Charlie's world, finding a dizzying excitement and strange beauty in the violence, drunkenness, and intrigue of life along the criminal margins. Charlie seems to have one foot in the present and the other in turn-of-the-century Sicily, and the soundtrack, which combines the rickety Italian folk melodies of the Feast of Gennaro with classic jukebox rock-and-roll (drawn from records in Scorsese's own collection, complete with scratches), plays this duality for all it's worth. Mean Streets is packed with superb performances (it made Keitel and DeNiro major names overnight, and deservedly so) and remarkable moments that stick in the memory long after the film is over: the drunken welcome home party, the fight in the pool hall, Johnny Boy's strange little dance while Charlie is trying to get him out of town. If Scorsese's first two films were about refining his ideas and learning his craft, Mean Streets was where he first put the pieces together properly, and the result was the first great work from one of the most important filmmakers of his generation.