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USA 1973
Directed by
Martin Scorsese
110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Mean Streets

Released a year after Coppola’s The Godfather, Mean Streets is the very antithesis of that film’s courtly romanticisation of Italo-American gangster culture. True to its title Scorsese's film goes to the grass-roots level of that culture  - New York’s Little Italy with its puffed-up hoodlums hanging around bars and pool rooms, moving stolen goods, gambling and fighting amongst each other over perceived slights and unpaid debts – delivered with great vitality by Scorsese who is well-aided by a busy juke-box soundtrack.  As such it is refreshing change of perspective although bereft of the Coppola-esque gilding frankly the goings of these essentially trapped people doesn’t hold much interest..

What does give the film some substance is the focus on Charlie (Harvey Keitel) and his relationships with  Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) and Teresa (Amy Robinson, in her only feature film role).  Charlie wants to better himself and sees his Mafioso uncle (Cesare Danova) as a means to do that but it also means that he lives in a world of conflict because of his love for Teresa and his attempts to protect her loose cannon cousin, Johnny Boy, both of who jeopardize his ambitions whilst beneath it all simmers the flames of Catholic guilt.

In the lead whilst Keitel is effective, he is an odd choice to play an Italo-American albeit that to some extent it adds to his moral incongruity with his surrounding.  On the other hand De Niro gives a breakout performance in the kind of role that would become his bread and butter (his next film would be The Godfather II)

Means Streets would probably have been a more satisfying film had Scorsese developed the dramatic side of things and given less attention to the carryings-on of a bunch of trumped-up low-lives playing at being gangsters but he is if nothing an American film-maker and given the film’s much-admired status, clearly in many people’s opinion he did the right thing.




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