A small-time gangster struggles to help his crazy
friend Johnny, who is in deep with various creditors.
Mean Streets (1973)
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin
Starring Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, David Proval,
Richard Romanus, Amy Robinson, Cesare Danova
Mean Streets is the blueprint for every Scorsese gangster film that came after it. Casino, Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Irishman, and especially Goodfellas owe everything to Mean Streets. For a fairly new director, Scorsese really accomplished wonders with this film, delivering an effective character driven drama about small-time hoods on the brink of the point of no return. Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro, both unknowns at the time, are fantastic as good friends who are polar opposites of each other. One level-headed and ambitious, the other possibly psychotic and filled with self-hatred.
Keitel is Charlie, a small-timer who is respected around the neighborhood and runs a small crew. His best friend is Johnny (De Niro), who has zero respect for anyone, is constantly picking fights, and owes thousands to various creditors, including mutual friend Michael (Romanus), who's a loan shark. Charlie wants to help Johnny, but only if Johnny makes an effort to help himself first, which he simply won't do. Meanwhile, Charlie is in love with Johnny's cousin Teresa (Robinson), who is trying to get Charlie to go straight. While the story does drag a bit in the middle, there are certain shots, bits of dialogue, and needle drops that remind you of the glorious career to come.
Mean Streets is essential viewing for any would-be Scorsese film buff, or gangster film buff. It's so important to Scorsese's development as a serious filmmaker. Without it, who knows what would've happened differently? Ultimately, it's a gangster film with low stakes that provide a backbone and template to so many films that came after it. And that's pretty cool.