Film Analysis of Martin Scorsese’s ‘Mean Streets’

Mean Streets is the first most significant feature film by Scorsese. The film’s storyline is about some friends growing up in a New York City section (Little Italy) during the 1970s. What weaves together most scenes in Mean Streets is how Charlie (Harvey Keitel) feels responsible for Johnny Boy (Robert DeNiro), his friend. Johnny Boy owes Michael (Richard Romanus), a loan shark in the neighborhood, a lot of money. As the film goes on, Michael becomes so impatient with Danny Boy for dodging him over payment. However, the involvement of Charlie does not only go beyond his being helpful, but it also puts the relationship he has with Giovanni (Cesare Danova - Charlie’s uncle) at risk. Giovanni doubles up as Charlie’s boss, and he doesn’t approve of Johnny Boy.

Mean Streets isn’t plot-directed. However, it has the format of loosely woven episodes that concentrate on the main characters, capturing by way of slice-of-life type fashion numerous moments of privilege with authenticity, warmth and humor. The film’s main characters are Johnny Boy, Charlie, Michael, Tony (David Proval), and Theresa (Amy Robinson). When the film starts, each of the characters is brought forth while acting some characteristic, except Theresa. As it unfolds, the film takes a look at these characters’ lives, hence acquainting the audience with them.
A junkie is seen firing up shots in a bar’s bathroom during the film’s opening segment. An annoyed Tony springs into action by grabbing and then throwing the junkie outside his bar. Afterwards, Tony reprimands his bouncer for his inaction. Tony doesn’t fight over ambiguity in morals; he isn’t that type. Although Charlie is in agony over what he was told by the priests, Tony is more practical and philosophical in his approach. Tony comes across as responsible, content, sensible and generous, and Charlie’s good friend.

Next is Johnny Boy. As he rounds a corner, he puts an explosive in a mailbox then flees. Excited, he looks back and marvels at the explosion that resulted. Here, Johnny’s character as one without sense and who plays with danger is brought forth; Johnny Boy is seen as one who doesn’t think through his behavior’s repercussions. Johnny will later get involved in risky deeds like shooting atop a roof and, with defiance, insulting Michael, pushing luck beyond safety. The introduction of Charlie is intercut in the whole opening segment throughout. Mean Streets is thus introduced as primarily the story of Charlie and his conscience conflict as a preoccupation that’s significant.
In the whole movie, Charlie is at a conflict with his conscience over being responsible to others and him. He unfortunately oversteps his boundaries in repeated attempts to help Johnny, something that Scorsese disapproves of. Mean Streets concludes violently, with Michael revenging in cold blood on Johnny for ridiculing and dodging him one time too many. (Michael is brought forth as a shady businessman, dealing in merchandise and later duped.)