Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Premise: Isolated cab driver Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) grows increasingly unstable as he attempts and fails to make relationships with women and fellow cabbies. As his mental condition worsens, Bickle becomes fed up with the world of sleaze he inhabits and grows increasingly violent.
What Works: Taxi Driver is one of Scorsese’s great films and it demonstrates his abilities to draw on the various elements of cinema and play them to their best effect. The cinematography of the film is used with great care and subjects are staged carefully within the frame, using the camera to suggest the psychological complexities and deficiencies of Travis Bickle in a very Hitchcockian way, communicating effectively but not being so flashy that the style becomes distracting. The score by Bernard Herrmann is a terrific and the subtle use of music. The film creates a sense of the ongoing threat without pounding it into the audience with shrillness. The performances of the film are very strong. De Niro gives a classic performance as Travis Bickle, a loner sinking deeper and deeper into his own nihilism. The portrayal of Bickel is a great mergence of screenwriting, cinematic craft, and acting to fully create a dangerous, psychotic, and yet sympathetic character. This is a unique combination of character traits, one that is not easy to pull off, and yet the film accomplishes that without being sentimental or unnecessarily flashy. As Iris, a twelve-year-old prostitute Bickle befriends, Jodie Foster gives one of the great performances of a child actor in the cinema. She is a unique character not seen before or since and like Bickle her characterization is a credit to both the writing and the acting talent. As a street film and a vigilante picture, Taxi Driver presents an intelligence about the nature of vigilantism and heroism that differentiates it from Death Wish or Dirty Harry. By making the protagonist a psychologically and socially troubled man and placing him in situations where he might very well be cast as a villain, the picture questions our view of who and what a hero is and how insane or vigilante behavior might just as well be interpreted as heroic depending on who gets killed and who gets saved.
What Doesn’t: The ending reverses some of the nihilism that the film builds toward as Bickel appears to be cured of his unconscious death wish. This is a sudden turn for the film and although the climax is traumatizing enough to believe that Bickel has been changed, it is a little troubling to the unity of the picture.
DVD extras: The two disc special edition includes featurettes and documentaries, tributes to Scorsese, commentary tracks, photo galleries, and a screenplay read-along feature.
Bottom Line: Taxi Driver is one of Scorsese’s essential works, one of a handful of pictures that defines his career. This is a film where all elements of cinematic craft come together to produce extraordinary results. It is also a thoughtful picture about who and what our heroes are and that self awareness leaves other vigilante films in the dust.
Episode: #158 (September 23, 2007)