Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Drama Mean Streets (1973)

Mean Streets (1973)

One of cinemas greatest film makers is Martin Scorsese and he definitely shows us why in his first crime epic, Mean Streets. Martin Scorsese takes a topic that he grew up around and is very familiar with and puts us not only into his characters shoes but in his own shoes.

The films plot tells the story of Charlie (Harvey Keitel) a man who works for his uncle’s organized crime syndicate. Charlie mostly collects taxes for his uncle and tries his best to keep his childish, self-destructive friend Johnny Boy (Robert De Nero) out of trouble. Johnny Boy owes all of the wrong people money but due to his friends’ Charlie’s connections with the mafia he is able to keep Johnny Boy out of any serious trouble, for a short time at least. Through it all is Teresa, Johnny Boy’s epileptic cousin whom Charlie is having a serious affair with but keeps it a secret to keep his reputation with the mafia.

The film is not so much about crime as it is about the individuals who grew up around it and are now a part of it to fit into today’s society.  The films main focus is on the rocky relationship between Charlie and Johnny Boy.  Although Johnny is a bad seed Charlie keeps hanging around him getting him out of trouble when he doesn’t have to because he can feel Johnny Boy’s pain. They are both lonely characters both meaningless to the world but the two are loyal to each other and although they don’t always see eye to eye, they respect each other even in the most uneasy of situations.

One of the many people Johnny owes money to is a man named Mikey whose respect for Charlie is overshadowed by his hatred towards Johnny Boy. Mikey desperately wants his money back and in one key scene we see the true nature of Johnny Boy’s rebellious nature towards other’s especially towards Mikey whom he refuses to pay back.  We question ourselves as to why he refuses to pay Mikey when he knows the supreme consequences at hand and the answer is simple it’s because that is who Johnny Boy is, a man living on the edge of existence not caring about what anybody at all, even Teresa, his own cousin.

Charlie is perhaps a more confused individual than Johnny boy. Johnny Boy may be a self destructive human being but he knows his place in life, Charlie, however, does not. On a daily basis Charlie is questioning the things that he does, not only for Johnny Boy, but for himself.  Throughout the film Charlie questions his faith in Christianity while questioning his place not only in the mafia but in society itself. His relationship with Teresa is almost nonexistent, he cares for the woman but for some reason unknown he doesn’t show it much.  And he is constantly stressing over Johnny Boy when he himself even more so has just as much if not more problems than Johnny Boy.

Marin Scorsese knows his characters, plain and simple. He relates to all of them and brings them to life like an artist creating a masterpiece. His characters are his own and nobody can clone them no matter how hard they try.

Mean Streets was the first film Martin Scorsese was able to call a masterpiece.  At the time he was one of our bright hopes of American cinema and through all of the struggles and mixed criticism he was able to rise above the ashes and create one of his best films and cinemas best films as well. And yes, I would even compare it to Raging bull and Goodfellas, but those films are also in a league of their own.

No doubt about it Mean Streets is an unforgettable tale and Martin Scorsese is the only one who could tell it.

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