On Martin Scorsese’s charmingly unpolished exploration of misguided friendship & loyalty.
“Honourable men go with honourable men.”
Have you ever had a friend who constantly gets you into trouble? Most of the time, they just can’t help themselves – and you feel an exhausting obligation to make sure they don’t perish from their own stupidity. Martin Scorsese clearly did. One foolish enough to make an entire film about, no less. In Robert DeNiro’s Johnny Boy, Marty exquisitely captures the misplaced arrogance and semi-suicidal antics of a typically troublesome pal – and most of us are left wishing we were half as patient with our friends as Harvey Keitel’s resilient Charlie is here.
At its core, Mean Streets is a movie entirely about the ups and downs of friendship and youth. The central characters all feel like teenagers pretending to be gangsters, rather than the real deal. They swindle money of kids on the street – and then use their earnings to pop to the movies together. They’re constantly bickering, brawling and jostling for position, but none of them ever feel like they know what they’re doing.
Their inexperience is mirrored by Scorsese’s lack of practice behind the camera too. Mean Streets was only his third feature, and many have commented on how raw and unpolished it feels. It’s experimental groundwork for a career that would later give birth to many of the most iconic crime films of all-time. You could argue Marty is just as out of depth with the situation as the characters themselves here – and that’s what lends this film its inherent, easygoing charm. It’s a laid-back, unassuming delight, which also proves to be immensely rewatchable.
I’m fairly certain I might have been the Johnny Boy to one of my friend’s Charlie a few years back, and I’ve only really noticed that now. Oops?