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Mean Streets

Movie review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Mean Streets Movie Poster Image
Gritty, violent Scorsese classic has cursing, nudity, blood.
  • R
  • 1973
  • 112 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Lots of negative messages arising from characters' criminal activities and desire for power. The lack of resolution suggests that things in New York City's Little Italy are going to continue the way they've been going forever.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The only character not involved in criminal activity is the female romantic lead, Teresa. Charlie struggles with the conflict between his religious beliefs, which teach that you should put others before yourself, and his ambition to gain more power and prestige in his neighborhood's criminal underworld. At no point does he consider stopping his criminal activities and encourages Teresa to move out of the neighborhood without him. All other characters are low-level criminals who are constantly turning on each other.

Violence

A shooting shows large amounts of blood spurting and covering the side of a car; the car crashes and the victims have some bloody injuries but are shown being helped by police and EMTs. Sex and violence are paired when a character recounts a dream in which he ejaculates blood and describes where it's smeared all over the place. Most of the violence throughout is fighting, beating, or brawling with punching, kicking, slapping, and using improvised weapons like a broken pool cue. Bruising and slightly bloody injuries are shown. There's another shooting that shows some blood dripping. A man brandishes a gun and fires it several times into the air, then throws a half a stick of dynamite off a roof. A man blows up a mailbox. A man pinches a woman's behind. A suicide shows a man putting a gun in his mouth but nothing else. Lots of physical and verbal aggression, and bullying behavior.

Sex

Sex and violence are paired when a character recounts a dream in which he ejaculates blood and describes where it's smeared all over the place. Off-camera noises and reaction shots imply a man is sexually gratifying himself with a young tiger. There's an extended scene with a woman's nude breasts visible for most of it; she's also briefly seen fully nude from the front and from the back. Kissing, caressing, and horseplay in bed imply a sexual relationship but there's no simulated sex. Elsewhere a few other kisses. Decoration in a "nudie" bar includes a cartoonish drawing of a naked woman; inside the bar women dance in bikini bottoms and pasties.

Language

"F--k," "c--t," "s--t," "bulls--t," "ass," "balls," the "N" word," "f-ggot," "skanks," "Jap," and "chink."

Consumerism

Characters regularly order J&B and Seven and Seven. A couple of cartons of Marlboro cigarettes, a can of Rheingold beer, and a bottle of San Pellegrino water are briefly prominent.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

The movie opens on a man injecting a needle into his arm in a bar bathroom. Many scenes take place in bars; main and background characters frequently drink. Drunken behavior includes showing people passing out and stumbling around. Frequent cigarette and cigar smoking, mostly in the background or by minor characters.

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.

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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?

Movie details

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