After Martin Scorsese went to Hollywood in 1972 to direct the low-budget Boxcar Bertha for B-movie mogul Roger Corman, the young director showed the film to maverick director John Cassavetes and got an instant earful of ur... more »gent advice. "It's crap," said Cassavetes in no uncertain terms, "now go out and make something that comes from your heart." Scorsese took the advice and focused his energy on Mean Streets, a riveting contemporary film about low-life gangsters in New York's Little Italy that critic Pauline Kael would later call "a true original, and a triumph of personal filmmaking." Starring Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel in roles that announced their talent to the world, it set the stage for Scorsese's emergence as one of the greatest American filmmakers. Introducing themes and character types that Scorsese would return to in Taxi Driver, GoodFellas, Casino, and other films, the loosely structured story is drawn directly from Scorsese's background in the Italian neighborhoods of New York, and it seethes with the raw vitality of a filmmaker who has found his creative groove. As the irresponsible and reckless Johnny Boy, De Niro offers striking contrast to Keitel's Charlie, who struggles to reconcile gang life with Catholic guilt. More of an episodic portrait than a plot-driven crime story, Mean Streets remains one of Scorsese's most direct and fascinating films--a masterful calling card for a director whose greatness was clearly apparent from that point forward. --Jeff Shannon« less
""Mean Streets," simply put, is the greatest independent film ever made. At the very least, it pioneered what modern audiences have come to associate with the best of indie cinema, and what, by the late '90s, has become so essential to our perception of so-called "hip" movies that the once daring and exhilarating techniques are now mostly used as frustrating cliches. The picture itself, made in 1973, is most famous for kick-starting three major careers. Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro later collaborated as a director/actor team on four more masterpieces: "Taxi Driver," "Raging Bull" "The King of Comedy" and "Goodfellas." Harvey Keitel, in the leading role, went on to play other memorable characters, like "Pulp Fiction"'s Mr. Wolf. Cast as Charlie , a small-time, young gangster in New York's Little Italy, Keitel struggles to make sense of his Catholic background and help his troubled friend (DeNiro) stay out of the powerful Mafia players' way. What seems to be a familiar scenario, used as far back as the classic Bogart/Cagney vehicles, gets an unusually complex treatment from Scorsese. A conventional, linear plot structure with big speeches and witty one-liners from main characters is abandoned for a grittier, naturalistic approach. The film consists of a series of telling episodes, related only through their participants. "Mean Streets" has much more in common with the works of Italian Neo-realism or French New Wave, rather than a typical gangster drama. Its unorthodox, original, yet unpretentious camera work gives the film an unprecedented vitality that young filmmakers have attempted to recreate for decades. Now commonplace shots, such as a subtitled introduction of a particular character, a fight sequence tracked through the four corners of a room in a single take, a swaying hand-held camera to create the sense of an alcohol-induced stupor, have all been popularized through this movie, a veritable Bible of dynamic cinematography. Another revolutionary aspect of "Mean Streets" is the virtual lack of a script. Most of the key scenes were almost fully improvised, thus sounding far more authentic than the old-style, theatrical delivery used in most American films up to that time. The actors' speech is so profanity-ridden that no screenwriter of the time could have possibly doctored anything even close. De Niro's flamboyant turn as a youth on the edge of sanity is unlike anything before. In fact,the swear-fests of later crime movies (and indie classics like "Clerks") owe a direct debt to his extraordinary performance as Johnny Boy. One of Scorcese's most groundbraking achievements was his incorporation of popular songs into the soundtrack. All of the icluded music originates elsewhere- Italian traditional recordings (Opera arias, Folk tunes) and for the most part, glorious, irresistable Rock'n'Roll of the early 60's (Motown, the Stones, Girl Groups, DooWop).The easily identifiable hits serve as atmospheric settings, adding an extra, personal dimension to any given scene. George Lucas' "American Graffiti", released in the same year, operated by the same principle, establishing a tradition that seems to expand with every coming year. As it is often the case with true independent cinema, "Mean Streets" was ignored at the box office, despite an underground acclaim which helped launch not only the great talents behind it, but an entire school of filmmaking."
"If Mean Streets did nothing more than introduce Martin Scorsese, Robert de Niro and Harvey Keitel to the general filmgoing public (although not the first film for any of the three, it certainly was the first film to capture the attention of the critics and public), then it would still deserve to be considered one of the most important of all contemporary films. But the film is much more - it established the interwoven themes which Scorsese, perhaps the greatest living film-maker now that Stanley Kubrick has died, carries through virtually the entire spectrum of his work. See this film, and then watch Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas and see how a master director developed his craft. Even so, Mean Streets is arguably Scorsese's best film: because the style was so innovative, the rawness and violence of both the treatment of the subject matter and of the two lead performances perhaps had a greater impact than anything either the director or the actors have done since. De Niro's stunning performance as Johnny Boy takes on the proportions of a Greek tragic hero, moving steadily toward his violent and inevitable destiny. In one fell swoop he established himself as one of the greatest actors of his generation (and would go on with Scorsese to achieve his greatest triumph - Raging Bull). Keitel, a Scorsese regular from the latter's very first film (Who's That Knocking At My Door), has never been better."
One Of The Greatest Movies Of The 1970s
Steven Kuroiwa | San Francisco, CA USA | 07/15/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I am a longtime fan of both Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro. Scorsese's "Mean Streets" is one of my alltime favorite crime movies.Charlie(Harvey Keitel) is an up-and-coming hood in New York City's Little Italy. Charlie wants to save his half-wit best friend, Johnny Boy(Robert DeNiro), who is in deep debt to a loan shark. The ultimate result is tragedy.Scorsese's "Mean Streets" is one of the greatest movies of the 1970s. "Mean Streets" was the first collaboration between DeNiro and Scorsese and also the film that brought both of them to national prominence. The story primarily focuses on Keitel's character, so I don't understand why DeNiro received top billing. The great performances by DeNiro and Keitel gave a hint to the stardom that would later be achieved by these two performers. Robert DeNiro may be the very last of the great movie actors. He is the ONLY present day actor who comes close to matching Marlon Brando for sheer talent and charisma. DeNiro completely immerses himself into the role of Johnny Boy. Scorsese also weaves strong themes of religion and redemption into his film. All of Scorsese's films are marked by intense realism. The low budget-"Mean Streets" has a strong grittiness that is sorely lacking in even Francis Ford Coppola's "Godfather" masterpieces.I have already seen this movie six times and can stand to see it several times more. Well-recommended."
David Baldwin | Philadelphia,PA USA | 08/23/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The first time I saw "Mean Streets" was on a double-bill with "Straw Dogs" at a repertory film house off the University of Pennsylvania in 1981. Now I can't put my put my finger on it but I had seen "Raging Bull" shortly before this but that film did not have the visceral impact on me that "Mean Streets" did. Where do you begin with this film? The dynamic soundtrack, the neighborhood ambiance, the great editing and cinematography. Primarily this film has two great characters in Harvey Keitel's "Charlie" and Robert DeNiro's "Johnny-Boy". They couldn't be more polar opposites. Charlie is essentially a moral man who tries to make peace with the immoral world in which he inhabits. Johnny-Boy is a loose cannon, oblivious to the choices that he makes, whose world could blow up in his face and he wouldn't have a clue. Charlie is misguided by feeling that he has to make some sort of penance in reigning in Johnny-Boy. Charlie doesn't realize how impossible this task is in the world he inhabits where order and chaos co-exist and order is enforced at the point of a gun. Both Keitel and DeNiro make dynamic entrances in this film even though they had previously appeared in more obscure films. One note about the commentary track on this special edition. A gripe I've had about previous editions of Scorsese films is that they lacked a commentary track, however, maybe I should have kept my peace. His commentary doesn't seem to be specific to the action on the screen and he speaks a lot of film-school arcana. It's intermittently interesting but not greatly so."
"Ah yes..the film that started a collaboration for the books. 'Mean Streets' paired a young director and a young actor who shared the common goal of looking to get their big break.
Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro together for the first time.
This movie started a relationship that spans eight films and sparked creative genius from behind-the-camera as well as in front of the camera that has yet to be duplicated. 'Mean Streets' offers a little insight into a world that's both fascinating and dangerous, thanks to Scorsese's semi-autobiographical references he incorporated into this film. Harvey Keitel plays a young Italian named Charlie. As Johnny-Boy so eloquently puts it, "Charlies likes everybody. Everybody likes Charlie." He struggles to live his life with some degree of normalcy, but immediately feels the pressures of his Little Italy neighborhood. He feels he has to save Johnny-Boy from a life of gambling and heavy debt, but when he can't, the climax begins to unfold. A far cry from his 'Sport' characterization in "Taxi Driver," Harvey Keitel gives a great and sympathy-evoking performance.Robert De Niro plays Johnny-Boy, Charlie's childhood friend who's a bit unbalanced and a lot in debt. This role here offers a foreshadowing in the roles that good 'ol Bobby D. would later become famous for. ::Ahem:: 'Travis Bickle' in "Taxi Driver." Johnny-Boy is enjoyable, from his entrance into Charlie's bar right up to the climatic end (I'm not giving it away.)De Niro is astounding, and I'm not saying that just because he's my favorite actor on the face of this green earth. He's really captivating. It's extremely hard to take your eyes off of him because of his character's unpredicatability. All I could say when I finished watching this movie was.."WOW.."If you're a Scorsese fan,get this film. If you're a De Niro fan, get this film. If you're both, get this film.
...If you want to see where genius comes from, get this film.
Oh yeah!! And keep you're eyes peeled for a cameo by Scorsese."