#241 Taxi Driver

(1976, Martin Scorsese)

“You talkin’ to me?”

Taxi Driver is an incredibly dull documentary movie about the life of New York cabbies and how the job works. It’s a documentary that focuses on a small group of them, featuring exciting scenes where they describe how their meters work.

No, I’m just kidding because you all know what this movie is since it’s a Scorsese classic and one of Robert De Niro’s most well-known roles.

Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a lonely, socially awkward man living in New York. Due to his severe insomnia, he takes a job as a taxi driver so that he has something to do at night. Throughout the film, we learn of his low opinion of many people around the city, and witness his clumsy attempts to interact with women. He also befriends a child prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), and tries to save her.

Being a classic movie, I wanted to really pick this apart to see if it was truly deserving of all the praise it tends to get. I am pleased to report that Taxi Driver is absolutely deserving of its status as a classic movie.

First of all, let’s take a look at the few negative things I had to say about it. The plot has a tendency to be a little disjointed, with very little overarching structure to hold it together effectively. The plot of Travis trying to save a child prostitute can sometimes feel like it’s competing with the plot of Travis trying to clean the streets through potentially violent means. They do fit together, but only just.

I also felt the relationship between Travis and Iris was poorly developed. There’s very little indication why Travis wants to save this one girl in particular and none of the many others in the child sex ring. The two barely interact with each other, so it’s hard to tell exactly why he’s so determined to help her specifically.

But that is literally every negative thing I can say about it, and even then neither of those criticisms hold the movie back. Despite the somewhat muddled structure, everything hinges on Travis’ character and can possibly be justified as a result, and there was never a point in the movie where I felt lost or I was questioning what was happening.

The disjointed structure could even be a representation of Travis’ disjointed thinking, as he desperately tries to make sense of the world around him, becoming increasingly paranoid as he does so. If it is deliberate, then it certainly puts a new spin on everything.

In addition, it’s entirely possible that Travis’ desperation to clean up the streets led him to wanting to save the first innocent he could find, and could be seen as an indication of who he is rather than a flaw on the writer’s part; that Travis sees her as a symbol of what he’s trying to save rather than feeling any kind of real affection for Iris as an individual.

The fact everything centres on Travis meant that he needed to be a pretty well-developed character and De Niro had to play him well. The good news is that both of these things are true. I was genuinely impressed with Travis as a character. He’s presented as both a sympathetic character and a terrible person simultaneously. While his misanthropic views could potentially turn the viewer away from him, his obvious loneliness and history in the Marines make those views seem like the desperate justifications for his own mental issues, and he suddenly becomes a character the audience can connect with.

De Niro also plays him fantastically, making him awkward, but not unpleasantly so. He has the ability to come across as eerily calm in dangerous situations, while also on a knife-edge and prone to kicking off if things got too much. De Niro presented himself as a man bottling everything up to breaking point, and did it so well that I stopped seeing De Niro the actor. This is when De Niro could be bothered to act well, before the never-ending Meet The Parents franchise drained him dry.

Meanwhile, Jodie Foster is phenomenal. I have great respect for her as an actress, but I had no idea how she would come across here. But at 12 years old, she manages to present her character with unexpected maturity, and it’s easy to see that this is the same girl who would go on to face up to a cannibal in Silence Of The Lambs.

The gritty setting of the movie is captured well, with every shot appearing as dirty and corrupted as Travis most likely sees it. This is a vision of a New York that you do not want to visit. This excellent saturated cinematography really helps bring the moodiness of the storyline to life.

Basically, Taxi Driver is the full package that absolutely deserves its place in cinema history. The Scorsese and De Niro partnership at its best.

Starring Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle & Cybill Shepherd
Written by Paul Schrader
Produced by Julia & Michael Phillips
Music by Bernard Hermann
Cinematography by Michael Chapman
Edited by Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf & Melvin Shapiro

Favourite Scene: Travis taking a woman on a date to a porn movie pretty much solidified how disjointed from reality he is.
Scene That Bugged Me: The child prostitution den seemed a bit silly, since many of the children were parading around casually. I would have thought these things would be kept somewhat quiet since, well, it’s kind of easy for the police to find out otherwise.

Watch it if: You want to see all the fuss about Robert De Niro’s acting
Avoid it if: You have no interest in anything gritty

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Posted on December 6, 2013, in 1970s, Crime, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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