Year of Release: 1973
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Martin Scorsese and Mardik Martin, based on a story by Martin Scorsese
Starring: Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro, Amy Robinson, Richard Romanus, David Proval
Running Time: 112 minutes
Genre: Crime drama
Four friends live in the Little Italy section of New York City: Charlie (Keitel) is torn between his devout Catholicism and the jobs that he does for his mafioso uncle (Cesare Danova); Johnny Boy (De Niro) is a violent, mercurial wild man whose reckless ways are about to catch up with him; Michael (Romanus) is a small time gangster and money lender who wants to break into the big leagues of organised crime; and Tony (Proval) owns the bar and neighbourhood hangout where these guys all congregate. Johnny Boy owes Michael a lot of money, and Michael is determined to collect one way or another. Charlie is sucked in because he has vouched for Johnny, and he is liable to pay if Johnny can't make good on his debts. To complicate matters further is Charlie's secret relationship with Johnny's epileptic cousin Teresa (Robinson).
Martin Scorsese and Harvey Keitel had previously worked together on Scorsese's debut feature Who's That Knocking at My Door? (1968) and Robert De Niro had already made several features for Brian De Palma, but this was the film that broke all three of them into the big time. It's shot in an almost semi-documentary style, with a constantly moving, handheld camera (the production were unable to afford to lay down tracks for tracking shots). Scorsese had intended the film to showcase the world that he had grown up in, and it showcases the trademark criss-crossing dialogue and a soundtrack mixing rock, Motown, pop and Italian opera. The film is sprawling and loosely plotted, but there is a spiky, kinetic energy that keeps it moving along. It's anchored by two incredible performances by Keitel and De Niro. Harvey Keitel as Charlie is someone who is trying to be good, but trapped in a violent world, and anchors the film. Robert De Niro gives an incendiary performance as the unpredictable maniac. However, in the film's insular and strongly male world, people of colour and women don't really get a look in. The only female character who really has much to do is Amy Robinson's Teresa, who doesn't really appear until the second half of the film, but she does hold her own in the boy's club. It's an exciting, dynamic film, where sudden violence is just around the corner.
Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro in Mean Streets