The Godfather made the mob glamorous. Mean Streets made it real. Martin
Scorsese's ferocious, grimy 1973 classic is just as good as Francis Ford
Coppola's masterpiece, but it shows us criminal life lower down the food
chain: the footsoldiers struggling to make a buck without getting shot up.
Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is our anti-hero, a guilt-ridden hood trying to
escape inner city New York. But his loyalty to the insane Johnny
Boy (Robert De Niro) keeps dragging him back in...
If you've just seen the polished, polite The Aviator, Mean Streets may be
something of a shock. Raw, passionate and aggressive, it was not Scorsese's
first film, but it was the first where he was allowed free reign with the
material and just enough money to make it. It was also the first time he
worked with De Niro, who soon replaced Keitel (star of Scorsese's no-budget
debut, Who's That Knocking At My Door?) as his preferred on-screen alter
ego. But here, Keitel is Scorsese on screen: a young Italian American
struggling with responsibility, guilt over sex, confusion over what God
wants from him, and how to live a 'good' life.
"INTIMATE AND POWERFUL"
"You don't make up for your sins in church," says the opening voiceover,
"You do it in the streets, you do it at home. The rest is bull**** and you
know it." Scorsese has been trying to atone for his sins in cinema. But, as
phenomenal a career as he's had, he's never again made a picture as intimate
and powerful as this.