People who know me very well know that I am a huge Martin Scorsese fan. Along with Steven Spielberg, Scorsese is probably my favorite all-time director. He made so many memorable classics that are worth watching over and over again with films like Taxi Driver and Goodfellas. However, I’m sad to report that Mean Streets is not one of those classics. At least not for me. It was a very well-received movie, but after watching it two times I couldn’t figure out why people were over the moon about the film. It’s not a bad film, but it is mostly boring. The acting is great and there are several fun scenes, but this is one of Scorsese’s lesser efforts. I can’t hold it against him because this film is his first feature project he had a say in. As a young filmmaker, this film shows he was still learning his craft. That being said, he manages to introduce the world to his style of directing and although I’m not the biggest fan of the movie, its still a solid movie debut for a first-time director.
Charlie (Harvey Keitel) feels like he does not have much of a future. He works as a small-time hood for his uncle in the mean streets of New York City’s Little Italy. His job is to collect payments and to reclaim debts. However, he doesn’t have the personality to succeed in this role because he is way too much of a nice guy. His uncle disapproves of the people he hangs around with: his lover with an epilepsy problem and a crazy friend always in debt named Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro). Johnny’s troubled soul finds near-catastrophic problems for everyone, and these problems escalate after Charlie and Johnny Boy failed to escape to Brooklyn.
One thing that really worked in this movie’s favor is the acting. I cannot be surprised because there are two actors here whom went on to have amazing careers and quite frankly, one of them is ranked among the all-time greats. Of course, I’d be talking about Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. Harvey Keitel made his character very believable and I felt like he was such a nice guy. He stuck by his friends despite constant pressure from his uncle, the leader of the local mafia. He really gave a deep, heartfelt performance that relies upon traditional values such as love and religion. De Niro, quite possibly, may delivered the best performance in the film. I loved his crazy, energetic performance. The man even started fights because that was just who he was. This performance shows what kind of future De Niro had in store for him.
Another thing I liked is the realism Scorsese tried to portray in the film. He grew up in the area so it was cool for him to make this movie on a more personal level. Growing up in Little Italy was not always fun, according to Scorsese. The movie often shows that it was not all fun and games. I liked how he attempted to add some honesty to this picture. Another thing that I liked is the soundtrack. The use of rock songs, and only rock songs was something rare in cinemas at this time. But films were increasingly taking this route of using rock music as their soundtracks. It’s common nowadays, but it was almost a revelation back in the day.
Despite some good intentions and more of an intimate picture, I personally did not feel like Mean Streets was a great movie. It has some good moments such as that entertaining bar fight scene, but I felt bored more often than not. Remember, Scorsese is one of my favorite directors but I felt underwhelmed with his first motion picture he had a say in. I liked the acting, the music, and the overall effort Scorsese put into the film. I felt I learned a little more about life in Little Italy. I understand many people love this film, but movies are subjective. It was not a great film, but it is certainly better than many other first-time directorial efforts. All we need is just a little experience and seasoning, and we will be in good shape.
My Grade: C+