Friday, January 14, 2011

Capsule Review: Mean Streets (1973)

It's hard to think of Martin Scorsese as anything but directorial royalty at this point, but in 1973 he was another in a long string of talent making exploitation films for Roger Corman (having helmed Box Car Bertha for Corman in 1972). These films showed obvious chops, but it was the intensely personal Mean Streets that heralded Scorsese's true arrival as a film auteur. Based partly on Scorsese's own experiences growing up in Little Italy, the film features a cast of instantly recognizable actors playing material overflowing with grit and texture. Harvey Keitel plays Charlie, a Scorsese surrogate rising in the ranks of the local mafia while attempting to live by a particular moral code, which involves taking care of the unpredictable Johnny Boy (an electric Robert De Niro) even as his behavior threatens to upset almost every part of his life. Propelled by a dynamite soundtrack and a collection of unforgettable scenes - the pool hall fight is classic - Mean Streets provided a template that Scorsese would return to throughout his career, and contains the highly original camera work and background detail which would define his work over the decades to come.