By Marc S. Sanders
I must not be that much of an intuitive movie watcher because I can not comprehend what is so fascinating about Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets.
Robert DeNiro was hardly known at the time but he is certainly a scene stealer here as Johnny Boy. He’s the wild one with no concept of the danger he puts himself and his best friend in. Charlie is the much more respectable and well-dressed hoodlum. Charlie is played by a young strait-laced Harvey Keitel. Keitel & DeNiro are the strengths of the film.
Beyond the headline cast, the structure of Mean Streets is a very loose patchwork of random events that circulate around Little Italy, NYC. The soundtrack comes from side street buglers, transistor radios, and jukeboxes consisting of The Rolling Stones, The Sherrills, The Ronettes, and samplings of Italian opera. It lends to the setting as another character. For a Scorsese film, that’s all part of the plan. The setting talks back to you, or it’ll take your hand and lead you on. Martin Scorsese is a prophet of New York. He uses the grime and steam of the streets to his advantage (even if some of this film was actually shot in Los Angeles).
Still, I just don’t get this picture. It moves slow at times. Random meet ups occur and I found myself asking if we have met this character and that character already.
I give Scorsese credit, in one respect. He testifies that although the film is fiction, it is a direct representation of what he experienced during his own upbringing. I believe all of that. Again though, why couldn’t it all be pieced together a little more tightly? Had it been, I’d probably have taken more of an interest in the setting and the dangerous exploits of Charlie & Johnny Boy.
It’s okay though. I’m glad I watched it, nonetheless. I had seen it many years ago and I was excessively bored then as much as I am right now. Scorsese was destined for better things. MUCH BETTER THINGS.