“Someday a real rain will wash all the scum off the streets”
Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is an ex-Marine Vietnam veteran in New York. He’s an insomniac loner who passes the time by taking a permanent night shift as a Taxi Driver. He sees the worst of mankind each night on his rounds and this eats away at him, fuelling his urge to lash out and right the perceived wrongs in the city. Travis tries to make some sort of connection with Betsy (Cybil Shepherd) a worker on a presidential nomination campaign. His failed attempts at some kind of normality serve only to highlight how alienated and out of touch with reality he really is. Deciding to turn his urges into action, Travis determines to help teenage prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster) escape the clutches of her pimp (Harvey Keitel)…
I first saw Taxi Driver at a College Cinema club in the early 80’s. I had no idea what it was about but had been told it was ‘unmissable’ by a few guys who had seen it. You hear that a lot about way too many movies but this time it turned out to be true. It was my real introduction to the work of Scorsese; I had seen Raging Bull a few weeks before and was blown away by DeNiro and I had mistakenly at the time thought of Raging Bull as a ‘DeNiro’ film. I was young, gimme a break… But Taxi Driver stays with you after you’ve seen it, and after you’ve seen it again because repeat viewings are mandatory.
The film came out in 1976, a year after ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and both films are exceptional studies of mental illness, albeit from different viewpoints. Whereas Cuckoo’s Nest pits a relatively sane man against the mental health system from inside an institution and is a damning indictment of that institution; Taxi Driver features an obviously irrational and mentally disturbed individual in a world he is incapable of comprehending.
The quality of everyone’s work is there on the screen. Bernard Herrmann’s terrific score gets under Travis and the viewers skin. Paul Schrader’s script is exceptional and signalled the dark heart that would permeate his work henceforth: Hardcore, Raging Bull, Mishima being the standouts. DeNiro fulfilling the promise of his previous year’s best supporting actor Oscar for The Godfather Part II. He is surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, Jodie Foster as Iris, Cybil Shepherd as Betsy and Harvey Keitel as Sport the pimp… but DeNiro carries the weight of the movie, he’s in almost every scene and his is an exceptional performance.
However the film belongs to Scorsese, returning to the New York of his breakthrough ‘Mean Streets’ of three years earlier. He brings all the individual parts together to form what is a dark, disturbing and compelling film. Essentially we are watching Travis’ psychosis and irrational thought process unravel to an explosive climax. On the page it must have looked bleak and it’s difficult to imagine how hard a sell it must have been to the studio. Scorsese sells it perfectly.
I’ve watched everything that Scorsese and DeNiro have done since that first Taxi Driver viewing; there have been the odd stumble here and there, especially for DeNiro of late but Scorsese is never less than essential viewing.
35 years after its initial release, Taxi Driver remains an all-time classic. The 35th Anniversary Blu-Ray and DVD are released this week with all the old and some new features.
Quality: 5 out of 5 stars
Is it good: 5 out of 5 stars