Taxi Driver (1976)

Director:  Martin Scorsese
Cast:  Robert De NiroJodie FosterCybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Albert Brooks
Plot:  A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a pre-adolescent prostitute in the process.

Genre:  Crime / Drama
Awards:  Won Palme d'Or (Cannes).  Nom. for 4 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score.
Runtime:  113min
Rating:  M18 for strong graphic violence, coarse language and some sexual references.
Distributor:  Sony
International Sales:  Park Circus

“Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.”

Martin Scorsese has made some outstanding movies over four decades, but Taxi Driver remains to be his masterpiece, in the league of Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990), and in my opinion the finest American film to emerge from the 1970s, alongside Polanski's Chinatown (1974).  It is also my favourite Scorsese film for some time now. 

Shot in the heart of a New York in perpetual social decay, Taxi Driver is uncompromising in its depiction of all that is ugly in the bustling city.  Portraits of urban malaise don't come any bleaker than this haunting mood piece that also functions as a potent character study.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam War veteran, is the character in question in Scorsese’s controversial film about one man’s descent into the depths of violence.  De Niro's extraordinary performance is complemented by superb supporting work, in particular from Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster, who made her breakthrough in a feature film here at the age of 16

De Niro inhabits Travis in ways that make the character a complex one, whose conflicting motivations and desires are articulated with clarity by Paul Schrader's introspective screenplay.  Through Travis' narration, Taxi Driver not only captures what he thinks about the appalling state of society, but also what he feels he must do. 

The ingenuity of Scorsese's film lies in the transformation of Travis' motivation to kill, with violence the only constant, and perhaps in a nihilistic way, the only guarantor of freedom.  But at what personal cost?  And for whose freedom?  Taxi Driver's thematic treatment of alienation and loneliness not as a personal disease, but as a consequence of a society whose values have gone to waste is at once an indirect critique of America's involvement in the unpopular war, and also of her capitalistic ideals. 

Once again, violence, both the physical and social, is also cause and effect.  Scorsese's approach to filming violence is similarly brutal, the essence of which is captured in the film's infamously devastating and hard-hitting climax.

Composer Bernard Hermann's haunting, jazzy (and at times sexy) score accentuates the visuals perfectly.  It is one of his last film scores before his untimely passing weeks before the movie's official release.  In my opinion, it is also the best score of his entire illustrious career that included working with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles. 

Almost forty years have passed, but Taxi Driver continues to age well, including Michael Chapman's mesmerizing cinematography.  This is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and is firmly etched in my list of top ten favourite films of all-time.

Verdict:  This is Scorsese at his finest, and is in my opinion probably the greatest American film to come out of the 1970s.


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Anonymous said…
Hi ET, thanks for the DVD. Just watched and read your review. This film did well in America because people like to see things getting done. Politicians are politicians. They talked and talked. While you can empathise with Trevis taking law into his own hand, it is also the most silly thing to do. It's all back to social core, the challenging task of parents, schools and society to bring up kids properly. Problem in the Bronx area (where it is shot) is the place is one big vicious cycle of drugs, prostitution and total neglect. I believe the previous NY mayor, Guiliani cleaned up the place eventually. It is very brightly lit up now and drug pushers are forced to do their business elsewhere.
Nevertheless, it is a great film, highly intense and De Niro is first rate.
Sherrie Lee said…
One of my favourite films. The haunting soundtrack adds to the disturbed world of De Niro's character. Serious films from the 70s tend to have a gritty edge to them. "The Conversation" comes to mind.

Your reviews of old films just show how much films have evolved - and the gap between great classics and mediocre contemporary ones.
Eternality Tan said…
Hi Sherrie! I love Coppola's THE CONVERSATION too. And yes, TAXI DRIVER is one of my absolute favourites. =D
Anonymous said…
Hi Eternally! It happens I was at the screening too. It was lovely to see Taxi Driver through different eyes. Here are my thoughts of it
Eternality Tan said…
Thanks Catherine. I read your piece - interesting thoughts on Betsy & Iris creepy resemblance, and the ending. I never thought Travis was dead. In retrospect, it does seem ambiguous. Hmm... maybe I am an optimist.

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