Gritty, violent Scorsese classic has cursing, nudity, blood.
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A Lot or a Little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Mean Streets is a 1973 drama from Martin Scorcese with lots of violence, profanity, drinking, and mature sexual content, and it's not for kids. Violence mostly includes fighting with punching, kicking, and improvised weapons, but there are two shootings. One shows multiple gunshots and blood dripping on the victim's shirt. The other shows large amounts of blood spewing and smeared all over the side of a car. Sex and violence are paired when a man tells about a dream in which he ejaculated blood. Lots of physical and verbal aggression. Strong language includes "f--k," "c--t," "s--t," the "N" word, and other racist or bigoted words like "chink," "Jap," and "f-ggot." An extended scene shows a woman's bare breasts for most of it, and she's briefly seen fully nude from the front and the back. Off-camera noises and reaction shots imply a man gratifies himself sexually with an animal. Dancers in a nightclub wear bikini bottoms and pasties. The opening scene shows a man injecting a needle into his arm in a men's room. Lots of drinking, including extended drunken behavior like passing out and stumbling around. Cigarettes are frequently seen, mostly in the background, and one character is always holding or smoking a cigar. There are no positive role models or messages; it's a hard-scrabble look at low-level criminals living hard-scrabble lives.
Strong character portrayals amidst violence and nihilism
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Martin Scorsese first movie, and as expected, not for children!
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What's the Story?
The MEAN STREETS of New York City's Little Italy are all that Charlie (Harvey Keitel) knows, and the only life available to him is in his uncle's organized-crime business. He's torn between the woman he's falling for who wants out of the neighborhood, his faith that teaches him that the fires of hell are what awaits him, and his ambition to make life better by climbing higher in the ranks of the family business. Complicating Charlie's life is his girlfriend's cousin, Johnny Boy (Robert De Niro), who's running up debts all over the neighborhood; debts he'll never be able to pay. Charlie wants to help Johnny by protecting him and getting him to straighten up his act, but Johnny won't be tamed. And the worse things get, the more pressure that builds on both Johnny and Charlie, the closer Johnny seems to going completely off the rails.
Is It Any Good?
This early Scorsese film is now considered a classic, and fans of his, and of gangster films in general, will definitely want to see the work that shows a master really coming into his own. But Mean Streets is absolutely not for kids. Scorsese trademarks like shocking violence, tons of profanity, and adult sexual situations are well represented here. That being said, mature fans who can handle the material will especially admire the way Scorsese makes you feel like you're right there on the streets of New York City with Charlie and Johnny Boy.
It's also really much more of a character study than it is a crime thriller. Aspiring actors and movie buffs will admire the lead performances and strong supporting cast. Another Scorsese signature is stopping the story at an arbitrary place rather than wrapping things up neatly for the audience. This place, these people, and the lives they're trying to make for themselves will just keep going on and on.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the violence in Mean Streets. Is it realistic? Does it make a difference if it is? How much is too much in movies, videos, and games?
What about the sexual content? Why do we see so many more women nude than men?
Is the strong language realistic? Do people really talk that way, and if they do, does that make it OK to put in movies?
- In theaters: October 2, 1973
- On DVD or streaming: February 2, 2005
- Cast: Robert De Niro, Harvey Keitel
- Director: Martin Scorsese
- Studio: Warner Bros.
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, History
- Run time: 112 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- Last updated: February 25, 2023
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