The Classic Movie Project: Mean Streets


Haven’t done this in, well, 9 years, but the wife and kid are gone for a few days, so what the hell else am I going to do but sit on my couch, eat Cheetos and watch some movies? For those who have forgotten or simply never knew, the concept is simple: I watch films that are considered classic but which I have never seen. For this movie, I picked the 1973 Scorcese filmĀ Mean Streets.

The film primarily focuses on two characters: Charlie (played by Harvey Keitel) and Johnny Boy (played by Robert DeNiro.) Charlie for some reason takes care of Johnny Boy, even though Johnny Boy is a complete and total pain in the ass. And their relationship is a big part of why the movie didn’t do much for me…Johnny Boy brought absolutely nothing to the table. He was a punk who constantly stiffed people money, and Charlie spent the whole movie cleaning up his messes. Why? It was supposed to be because they were friends, but who would be friends with a shithead like that with no morals and nothing to lose, when you had a sense of morality (in Charlie’s case from his Catholic upbringing) and plenty to lose? I really think that if Charlie owed him one from when they were kids or something, it would make more sense. Instead the majority of the movie is Charlie telling Johnny Boy to pay people back and Johnny Boy coming up with excuses to not pay them back. Charlie seems like a nice guy, but he’s kind of a bozo; hey dumbass, get this: your friend is never going to pay anyone back. Why do you keep covering for him when he repeatedly shows you no respect? I dunno, I just thought that it was unrealistic for a friendship to be so unevenly balanced, with one go going so far out of his way for the other with zero re-enforcement from the other guy.

However, the beauty of the film is that it really brings to life a Lower Manhattan and a Little Italy that no longer exist. It is gritty and grimy and gloomy, and the interior shots mostly take place in a seedy Go Go bar, doused in a grim red haze. Does a great job of using a tough Italian neighborhood to create a mood, similar to Rocky in that regard (though Mean Streets is nowhere near as good of a movie). I also liked the fact that really not a whole lot happened. There wasn’t a ton of gratuitous violence or lots of real explosive scenes. It was just sort of a slow burn, an unapologetic look at Little Italy in the early 70s that neither glorified the Mob nor looked down on it.

This is a movie that is worth watching for the scenery, the backdrops, and to glimpse an early, unpolished Scorcese. But I think its status an all time great film is rather overstated. Grade: C+

PREVIOUS MOVIES REVIEWED:

Marty

Road House.

12 Angry Men.

Casablanca

Triple review: Blue Velvet, Magnificent Seven, and Blow Out.

Godfather 2.

Spaceballs.

North by Northwest.

Dr Strangelove.