Plot: What’s it about?
Charlie Cappa (Harvey Keitel) is trying to blaze a trail toward a better life for himself, but he can’t seem to make that happen. His friends have found their professions, from bar owners to street hustlers to players in the local mafia scene. But Charlie isn’t able to find his niche, so he pushes on and hopes for a better chance down the road. He works for his uncle doing small time collections work, such as overdue debts and the like. The field isn’t one he is a natural in, as he is too nice too often to remain in his position. He lacks that killer instinct to close some encounters, but that is all he has at the time, so he continues in collections. After all, if he could show some promise in this low ranking position, perhaps a brighter future awaits him in organized crime. That is not the path he wants to follow, but with limited options, he might not have a choice. He is also in love with a woman named Teresa (Amy Robinson), but that presents even more problems for Charlie, as his family disapproves of the relationship. She is stricken with epilepsy, which makes her unsuitable in the eyes of his family, especially his uncle. Another frequent concern is Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), a wild and violent friend of Teresa’s cousin, who causes all kinds of trouble. Can Charlie escape the mean streets, or is he destined to fall into the life he doesn’t want?
A mobster movie directed by Martin Scorsese, which stars Robert De Niro and Harvey Keitel, but just isn’t that great? I know, it sounds like some kind of cruel joke, but to be fair, this was one of Scorsese’s earliest feature film projects. Mean Streets is not a bad movie, not even close, but when you shake out all the hype, the movie is quite thin. The direction is terrific, as Scorsese weaves in nice visual touches and keeps us interested, but the screenplay is weak and the cast isn’t as impressive as you might expect. The main issue is how minimalist the premise is, we watch some folks in New York, a few plot turns are tossed in, and we spend almost the entire movie inside of a dark bar. Of course, some things happen over the course of the movie, but the mob angle isn’t a focal point as much as an illness in one of the characters. I can appreciate a dramatic motion picture, but this one just isn’t fleshed out enough. Keitel and De Niro are solid, but don’t have a lot to work with, while the rest of the cast is passable at best. The movie is decent for mobster buffs or Scorsese disciples, but this is no classic. Warner has replaced their old disc with a new Special Edition, which is great news. I can’t recommend Mean Streets as a purchase, but if you do have to own it, this new Special Edition is the best option.
This is not one of his finest motion pictures, but even so, Martin Scorsese showed immense talent and potential with Mean Streets. He was still a few years from his first masterpiece Taxi Driver, but he was able to prove himself in his earlier works. He would become known for his mobster themed pictures, which is what we have here. But Mean Streets is not as active and visceral as Scorsese’s usual pictures either, so he has to lean more on his skills behind the camera. He does so with solid results, despite a sometimes mediocre screenplay. As I said above, not much happens in Mean Streets and in order to keep the audience involved, Scorsese had to use visuals and technical grace, which he does. A simple tale made more vivid thanks to a skilled hand behind the scenes, a hand that would become even greater over time. Other films directed by Scorsese include The Gangs of New York, Goodfellas, The Last Temptation of Christ, The King of Comedy, and The Color of Money. The cast of Mean Streets includes Robert De Niro (Meet the Parents, Raging Bull), Harvey Keitel (Red Dragon, Blue Collar), Robert Carradine (Ghosts of Mars, Tv’s Lizzie McGuire), and Victor Argo (Angel Eyes, True Romance).
Video: How does it look?
Mean Streets is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. This release sports an all new digital transfer, but the image is still far from pitch perfect. This turns out to be a solid visual treatment, but the elements suffer from flaws common to films from this time period. The print is clean as far as nicks and debris, with only minor instances to mention, but grain can be troublesome. As such, the visuals have a kind of softness and while not a serious problem, the softness is evident throughout. I found colors to be bright and contrast is even handed, so not all is lost because of the soft presence. In the end, this is still a fine presentation, just not a remarkable one.
Audio: How does it sound?
As you should be able to guess, this film is not an audio powerhouse, so while the included mono track is basic, it proves to be sufficient. It does seem like age has taken a toll on the materials, but not to an extreme level, so I wasn’t too let down. The dialogue is thin, but easy to understand, while the sound effects are in decent enough form. The excellent musical score is well presented, though again limited by the mono track’s abilities. This is not a great track to be sure, but it handles the basics and is acceptable at all times. This disc also includes subtitles in English, Spanish, and French, in case you’ll need those.
Supplements: What are the extras?
Martin Scorsese provides an audio commentary track and as usual, his insights are well worth a listen. He offers all kinds of details, from why he made the movie to the writing process to the actual production itself. A more than solid session that should please fans, as Scorsese is on his game in this track. This disc also includes a vintage promotional featurette, as well as the film’s theatrical trailer.