Saturday, August 1, 2009
Mean Streets (1973, Martin Scorsese)
Martin Scorsese has to be one of my favorite directors. Other than Taxi Driver, I had never really paid much attention to him until the past year or so. I started checking out his films and soon realized that I loved every single one that I watched. Expect more reviews of his films soon (I watched Taxi Driver for the 5th or so time last week and watched Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore again this weekend). I had heard the name Mean Streets before but didn't know much about the film before I saw it for the first time. I wanted to check it out because of three main things: Scorsese, DeNiro and Keitel. I figured I couldn't lose. I wasn't blown away with it the first time I saw it but after watching Bad Lieutenant again it demanded a re-watch.
Mean Streets takes place in New York's Little Italy. Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, part of a mob family whose job is collecting protection money. Charlie hangs out at his friend Tony's (David Proval) bar and regularly meets up with Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro), a young derelict who Charlie is constantly bailing out of trouble. Johnny owes money to pretty much everyone, including local wiseguy Michael (Richard Romanus) and Charlie tries to get Johnny to pay off his debts. Charlie's Uncle Giovanni is planning on giving Charlie his own restaurant but fears that if his uncle finds out about his friendship with Johnny and that he is in love with Johnny's epileptic cousin Teresa (Amy Robinson), his chances of running the restaurant will be gone.
Upon second viewing I have definitely changed my mind about Mean Streets. Everything about it is excellent: the cast, the story, the characters and (the thing that holds the film together) the setting. Everything about this film just feels so real and the fact that much of the film is autobiographical of Scorsese's life is not surprising. Keitel as Charlie is perfect as the good guy who needs to choose between his relationships and his future, all while trying to be a good Catholic. The real star of the film though is DeNiro in the role that really got him noticed (a year before he won an Oscar for The Godfather part II). He plays Johnny with such an incredible combination of immaturity, volatility and innocence it's a wonder he didn't get an Oscar nod for this role too. Scorsese's portrait of the mean streets of New York is so mesmerizing, I felt like I was right there following the characters around. Then there's the brilliant ending, but I won't give that away.