“Honorable men go with honorable men”: ‘Mean Streets’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - November 07, 2017
“Honorable men go with honorable men”: ‘Mean Streets’ Review

Considered to be Martin Scorsese’s directorial debut, Mean Streets is an incredible look at crime life through the eyes of two people struggling for two lives. Mean Streets is not only fascinating for being Scorsese’s debut but also for how insanely confident it feels. A lot of Scorsese trademark recurring themes are all in place in Mean Streets; themes like religion, criminal life, family and so much more are all first explored here.

The plot is relatively straightforward Charlie (an explosive Harvey Keitel) aspires to become more in the family business, but there are various conflicts standing in his way, including his Catholic upbringing and his friendship with his friend, Johnny Boy (a riveting Robert De Niro). Along the way, Charlie’s lives become entangled as he seeks redemption.

Keitel and De Niro are wonderful to behold in Mean Streets, and you can tell how it is because of this film that they went on to become such powerhouse actors; Mean Streets is a terrific showcase and they both deliver in spades. The rest of the cast does a great job in the film, including David Proval, Amy Robinson, and Richard Romanus. It’s not as big an ensemble as some of his later crime films like Goodfellas or Casino, but Mean Streets is an excellent and superbly acted film.

One of the things that differentiate Mean Streets within Scorsese’s filmography is how wonderful Scorsese delves into one of his favorite subjects, specifically religion. Scorsese would go on to explore religion in films like The Last Temptation of Christ and course most recently with Silence, but in Mean Streets, he also makes it a thought-provoking extension of Charlie. For Charlie, his Catholic upbringing is both a blessing and something that he’s completely torn about because of his desire to move up in the ranks of the mob. It’s a fascinating exploration of faith and devoutness and one that Scorsese fully explores in Mean Streets and a lot of his later masterpieces as well.

Even though it doesn’t feel as sprawling as some of his other crime epics like Goodfellas, Casino, The Departed or The Wolf of Wall Street, Mean Streets feels purposefully like the beginning of Scorsese’s exploration of the crime world. Scorsese has also incorporated humor into a lot of his crime films but with Mean Streets, a lot of the film’s narrative is taken very seriously and as a result, ends up being mostly a drama about responsibility and being torn between two things in your life.

Aside from its stellar cast and jaw-dropping ending, Mean Streets is a truly superb first film and one that signaled Scorsese as a major talent to watch and one of the most exciting American directors of the New Hollywood. Dramatic, smart and incredibly thought-provoking, Mean Streets feels like a film that is very much influenced by something like Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront; a tale about redemption, working life and being torn between two important things in your life. If you want to start delving into Scorsese’s crime films, then make sure to check out Mean Streets, and it’s something of an unforgettable one.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he's ready to defend at any moment.
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