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Keyser Corleone's Martin Scorsese Week, Review 1

Mean Streets (1973) - Directed by Martin Scorsese

"Honorable men go with honorable men."

Everyone's making a big buzz over gangster film kingpin Martin Scorsese's new movie, The Irishman, being released on Netflix. I figured now would be the best time to prepare for this by getting through a bunch of Scorsese movies. I have to mix it up, though. I don't want to review his best seven movies because he's an amazing filmmaker. So I'm going to start with his first big hit: Mean Streets.

Scorsese's first gangster hit is a simple tale of a young man (Harvey Keitel) who works for his uncle, a crime lord. He has a friendly relationship with an irresponsible man (Robert DeNiro) who constantly borrows money from people and rarely pays back. As he works his ways up the ranks of the gangs while hoping for salvation, he looks for it in trying to help his friend to get his life straightened out. But the worse the problem gets, the more danger friend's life is in.

It's pretty easy to see that Scorsese had not come into full bloom at that point. Movies like Taxi Driver and Raging Bull are a few steps up. It's a good movie for those who love a good gangster movie and it shows excellent charisma between the major characters. However, the way the characters are held is the main problem. Most of the cast hardly gets any development, which is irking due to the interesting subplot of the main character's search for salvation which is rarely explored. The acting is wonderful, and it's fun to see what the characters are doing with each other at times. But how often does it affect the main storyline? Many smaller characters have little to nothing to do with the main story and have only a couple of minutes of important screen time. On the plus side, most of the scenes revolving around them are well made and very enjoyable. But what happened to that large cat? What's the deal with the party and the soldier?

The most interesting things in the plot are Harvey Keitel's attempts to work up the ranks while dodging his bosses orders without his boss knowing, and Robert DeNiro's irresponsibility affecting everyone around him. The tension is brought upon by the desire to see what the straw that break's the camel's back will be, and the end result is very shocking, especially when you've got Harvey Keitel playing a man who cares so much about him. But I really wish I could have seen more of the religious exploration, because there are so many ways Scorsese could have taken that direction.

Other than that, it's a well made drama. The characters feel very real which helps bring out the tension of each situation, and the setting and scenery help bring out that realism. Much of the plot has to do with the surroundings, and these surrounding and places help to define the story in the long run, even if the characters aren't always following suite due to their random placement. And the fight scenes and other heavily dramatic scenes have a frightful sense of realism which keeps the movie going. The fight scenes are very entertaining and are both tense and a little funny. It also helps that Robert DeNiro's character is hilariously annoying and causes several of them.

Mean Streets is a fun movie in some ways, and a little confusing in others. I was confused the first time due to the scattered subplots and the second time watching it (immediately after the first, believe it or not) confirmed the confusion. But at the same time, more of it made a lot of sense, which kept me interested. It's a charismatic and properly dramatic movie which is only hurt by its poor character handling. I'd say it's a good enough movie for Scorsese fans but I wouldn't consider Mean Streets one of the essential gangster flicks.