Here we go. This is the Scorsese we know and love.
This is not only a good movie for a still-young director, its a great film on its own merits. It was the first movie where Scorsese worked with Robert De Niro, which is now maybe the best actor/ director duo. And in this, you could already see that the duo was meant to work together.
What separates this movie, from his prior two works, is it oozes passion. You can tell this was a story Scorsese cared about and wanted to tell. In ‘Who’s That Knocking at My Door?’, and ‘Boxcar Bertha’, you saw glimpses of Martin Scorsese the director we know, but now Martin the writer. What held those other two films back was the lack of plot, unlikable or uninteresting characters, and unconvincing dialogue.
The city comes to life in this movie. People always say no one does New York City better than Martin Scorsese, and this movie is where that starts. It is a cliche to say this, but it does feel like a character in the movie.
The movie has something to say. It has overlying themes about guilt and the weight it puts on us. The characters have clear motivations, such as Harvey Keitel’s Charlie who feels torn in different directions for his different relationships and responsibilities. He feels responsible for his reckless friend Johnny (De Niro). You understand why the characters are the way they are, and why they do the things they do. And you care about them as well. They are not good people, but they are interesting. Scorsese is great at taking these terrible people and making us actually care about them. And the key to that just makes them interesting. A compelling character is usually a character we care about, even if they are criminals or brutes.
And how it came to be is interesting as well. After Boxcar Bertha was not well received, Scorsese wanted to tell a story he had a connection to. He has said this movie is based on the type of stuff he would see growing up. That personal connection makes all the difference. It was clear he was a good director, but he was tackling stories he had no feel for. A great director still needs to care about what they are making.
The film clearly has a huge influence on not only Scorsese’s work after this but on the crime genre in general. watching it now, I can see its influence in the Sopranos. The Godfather, etc.
Is this my favorite film I have seen of his? No. I still like Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, and most of his other classics more. But it is still very good, and an important film. This one gets 4 stars.