Mean Streets

Mean Streets ★★★★½

“20$? Let’s go to the movies!”

Mean Streets is often remembered as the film that put Martin Scorsese on trails once and for all. It’s a true claim since much all of his signatures are settled here: Italian-American crime, non-stop use of copyrighted music, energetic editing, carefully sliding dollies, frequent profanity, etc. 

But it’s not just about these, Mean Streets is a really great film overall. The plot is very loose as this feels more like a document of a lifestyle or a character study. Whatever it is, Mean Streets is really engaging with its witty dialogue, off-beat humor and interesting characters. I realized that I became so engaged that I didn’t want it to end. I felt as if I was involved inside the story which is something really hard to achieve from a director’s perspective. The characters play a huge role in this. Many will identify with Harvey Keitel’s Charlie, a man who wants to make it big but is inside a dilemma because of his crazy friend Johnny Boy (no other than Robert De Niro) and his cousin Teresa, whose in love with Keitel. 

Scorsese seems to be inspired by the French New Wave filmmakers, as he did in his debut Who’s That Knocking On My Door, much related to his use of more mobile handheld cameras and documentary style shots of the streets. It’s used for a delightful measure and is inspiring on what can be done done with minimum budget. Scorsese uses the dolly cameras effectively, too. The glides are really smooth. He sometimes attempts at the dolly zoom technique twice in a restaurant scene. Even though it’s not quite there yet, he perfects the technique on the long road to Goodfellas. A very technically impressive shot is made in the scene where Harvey Keitel is drunk and the camera is strapped onto him, in front of his face and it sways around with the actor as he walks around the club. It’s an amazing shot even for today’s standards and a showcase of what creative directing and cinematography is. 

Mean Streets is an essential Scorsese picture and also an inspiration for emerging filmmakers who want to achieve big things with small budgets.

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