In essence Mean Streets is an updated, downtown version of Marty (1955), with small-time criminality replacing those long stretches of beer-drinking in a Bronx bar. Four aging adolescents, all in their mid-20s but still inclined toward prankish irresponsibility, float among the lower-class denizens of Manhattan’s Little Italy, struggling to make a living out of loan-sharking, the numbers game and bartending.
The hero, competently played by Harvey Keitel, is on the verge of taking over a restaurant for his vaguely Mafioso uncle (Cesar Danova in a compelling, deglamorized interpretation), but his climb to respectability is obstructed by his kinship with the trouble-making Robert De Niro and his budding love for De Niro’s epileptic cousin, played rather confusingly by Amy Robinson.
Screenplay, instead of developing these characters and their complex interactions, remains content to sketch in their day-to-day happenings. But Scorsese is exceptionally good at guiding his largely unknown cast to near-flawless recreations of types. Outstanding in this regard is De Niro.