Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Accomplishment #003: Mean Streets

Director: Martin Scorsese
Edition: Warner Home Video Special Edition

The more I see, the more I love me some Scorsese. Every film of his I see is so methodical, so obviously well planned out. He is a master at creating sequences where every shot just feels right. It's like watching pieces being placed into a puzzle. So he either must storyboard the hell out of his films, with the entire story already planned out in his head... or he gets copious coverage and works only with genious editors (Thelma Schoonmaker anyone?).

The film was made in Little Italy, New York City and is heavily inspired by Scorsese's childhood in the 10 block neighborhood. The story focuses on a group of young, wanna-be gangsters. Charlie (Harvey Keitel) is the nephew of a high ranking mafioso and has a conscious that impedes with his ability to become the hard edged gangster he seems to aspire to be. Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro) is a reckless hood who's into everyone in the neighborhood for at least a couple hundred dollars. Then there is Tony (David Proval), the owner of the dive bar where they all hang out. Last, but not least is Michael (Richard Romanus), who may be the most determined to make a name for himself in the world of organized crime, but initially seems to be failing miserably at it.

These are the human characters in the film, but just like in Scorsese's Taxi Driver, there are times when New York City seems just as much a character as any of the people on screen. Scoresese's New York seems to be everything Giuliani wanted to change about New York (and in many ways succeeded). Mean Street's New York is filled with shady dive bars that are constantly illuminated by dark, red lamps and inhabited not by the casual drinker, but the sort that would make it their living, if only someone would support them in such endeavors. This New York is unabashadly anti-gay, pro stripper, and filled to the brim with a bunch of boys wishing to be made men. This New York makes for a hell of a movie.

Now, I usually despise movie reviews that discuss too much plot and give away the movie, so I'll give you a warning now: spoilers below. I'm going to do it though, because there is something about the story and character development that I find unique and fascinating. So, if you've seen the film please read ahead and comment. If you haven't, go see it, then come back and read and then comment!

I believe that this story is not about Charlie and Johnny Boy, but about Michael. If you look at the classical theater definition of the word, protagonist describes a "character undergoing a dramatic change, both of his own character and external circumstances." In my opinion, Michael is the character who undergoes the most change, and Charlie and Johnny Boy are the external circumstances that cause this to happen. At the beginning of the film Michael is a pretty pathetic excuse for a criminal. We meet up with him while he's trying to unload some black market German camera telephoto lenses. What he learns is that what's he's actually invested in is Japanese lense adapters. It is a pretty embarrassing moment. By the end of the film we've seen him change into a not just a cold blooded killer, but someone who's enough power and draw to have someone else pull the trigger for him.

Charlie and Johnny Boy on the other hand remain nearly the same people through the movie. From beginning to end Charlie is hiding his relationship with Teresa and continuously sticking his neck out for Johnny. From beginning to end Johnny is recklessly ignoring the dangers he's creating for himself and those whom he relies on.

Your thoughts?

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