Wednesday 19 August 2009

Mean Streets [1973]

Mean Streets was the movie that established Martin Scorsese as one of the greatest filmmakers of his generation, and set him on the path to cinematic immortality. If Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather took the Mafiosi to mythic levels, Scorsese’s Mean Streets brought them back to the 'streets' – incidentally the only place, according to Charlie, the principal protagonist of the movie (played by Harvey Keitel) and the director’s alter-ego, where you pay for your sins. A loose companion piece to Scorsese’s fascinating debut feature Who’s That Knocking at My Door?, the movie has been heavily inspired from the director’s personal experiences of growing up in Little Italy, the Italian-American community in New York. Told through the eyes of its guilt-ridden anti-hero, the movie manages to provide a powerful kaleidoscopic view to the grimy underbelly of one of the world’s greatest metropolises, while at the same time touch upon themes ranging from Catholic beliefs to loyalty, blood or otherwise. The standout feature of the movie is, without doubt, Robert De Niro, who, as the volatile and downright crazy Johny Boy, doesn’t just set mailboxes on fire, but also sets the screen blazing with his raw, explosive performance. Add to that terrific camerawork, brilliant pop/rock soundtrack hand-chosen by Scorsese from his personal collection, and screenplay that bursts with energy, and what you have is a tour de force that is mesmerizing as much because of its ferocious intensity and unabashed violence as it is because of its undiluted realism. Interestingly, this was also the first in a string of legendary collaborations between Scorsese and De Niro.

Director: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Drama/Gangster Drama/Crime Drama/Urban Drama
Language: English
Country: US


Dave said...

Excellent analysis of this film and its place in mafia movies. Where The Godfather is the romanticized notion of dons and bosses, this is guys at the street level, literally hustling to make a _few_ dollars each day. The indy feel to the entire production fits perfectly with the storyline of these knockaround guys and the lives they lead. I rate it a little lower than you do (it would be a 4-star movie for me on a scale of 5), but it's definitely one that everybody needs to see and shows the places that Scorsese would eventually go.

Anonymous said...

Intensely personal, amazing movie

Shubhajit said...

@Dave: Thanks a lot Dave. Yeah, Godfather and Mean Streets are as different from each other as is possible; perhaps thats precisely why, when juxtaposed, they give a bird's eye view of the entire spectrum where the Mafia goes. You're right, there's a distinct indie feel to the entire production design which sort of adds to the immediacy of it all. Well to me its a 5-star movie. Only that, had the scale permitted, Taxi Driver & Raging Bull would gotten 5.5 each.

@Srikanth: Precisely. I whole-heartedly agree to both your statements!