Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster and Cybill Shepherd.
Genre: Drama
Released: February 8 1976
by Columbia Pictures
Running time: 113 mins (1 hr, 53 mins)
Cert: 18 (BBFC) R (MPAA)
Rating: ★★★★★

IMDb | View Trailer

Travis Bickle is an ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran living in New York City. As he suffers from insomnia, he spends his time working as a taxi driver at night, watching porn movies at seedy cinemas during the day, or thinking about how the world, New York in particular, has deteriorated into a cesspool. He’s a loner who has strong opinions about what is right and wrong with mankind. For him, the one bright spot in New York humanity is Betsy, a worker on the presidential nomination campaign of Senator Charles Palantine. He becomes obsessed with her. After an incident with her, he believes he has to do whatever he needs to make the world a better place in his opinion. One of his priorities is to be the saviour for Iris, a twelve-year-old runaway and prostitute who he believes wants out of the profession and under the thumb of her pimp and lover Matthew.

I’m quickly becoming a fan of Martin Scorsese, and I had been kicking myself for ages because I hadn’t seen Taxi Driver. And then, one glorious day, I saw that one of the movie channels on TV (I forget which one) was airing it and I recorded it straight away. Since I don’t have any money to go to the cinema with, I’m going to be reviewing some pretty old films until I do have some cash (and when there’s actually something that I want to see). Anyway, I have always expected greatness from Taxi Driver, given its iconic status and also the fact that its main actor is the awesome Robert De Niro and before I go into this review I have to say that I do not regret watching this film. Not one little bit at all because it is just that good.

Taxi Driver tells the story of Travis Bickle, a Vietnam War veteran who is the definition of a loner. He can’t sleep so he takes a job working incredibly long hours as a taxi diver throughout the entire of New York City and spends the day going to porno theatres and thinking about the horrific deteriorated state of the city and the world. He thinks that there is only one thing that is pure in the whole city, which is a lady called Betsy who works in a campaign office and Travis becomes obsessed with her. After a date with her goes wrong, he devotes himself to making the world a better place by working out and buying a lot of guns. Taxi Driver has one of those stories where it’s smooth sailing up until a point where everything just explodes. Usually one of my biggest pet peeves in anything is a story that is incredibly slow with nothing happening until the very end. With this film, that’s not the case. The first part of the film runs more smoothly than slowly because that’s how Travis’s life is going. The pace of the film’s story moves perfectly with Travis, starting out smooth and almost dream-like and the getting faster. There were parts of the film that I found a little difficult to understand, specifically the end which has been up for debate for over 30 years now. What has exactly happened to Travis? I’m not sure and I don’t think I really want to be sure.

I think that Taxi Driver really shows that a film doesn’t need to have a huge ensemble cast to be great, as there were only two actors in the whole film that I recognised (three if you count Martin Scorsese who has a cameo appearance as one of Travis’s fares), Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster. Robert De Niro is one of my favourite actors ever and I think that this is definitely one of his best performances that he’s given. He made Travis into one of those characters that you’re not really sure of what you’re supposed to think about him. Should you empathise with him or be sort of scared by him? That kind of mystery is what I think makes the character of Travis so great. You can really tell how his mental state deteriorates as the film progresses through his body language and the flickers of his eyes, which I think is so much more effective than actual words. De Niro’s performance is definitely one that is going to stick with me for a long time.

I’ve seen a lot of films and TV shows that take place in New York City, but very few of them have shown the side of the city that Taxi Driver does. In the film, we are shown the seedy underbelly of the city, where all the junkies, gangs, hookers and porno theatres reside. The city is completely un-glamorous, which I don’t think had been done before in films, and I always love being able to see a more realistic view of a city like New York, rather than the ultra-glitzy view that is seen in so many romcoms. Martin Scorsese is from New York and the vast majority of his films are set there with different views, but I think the side that is presented here is probably my favourite that I have seen. Most films that feature big cities like New York make me want to go there to experience it myself, but Taxi Driver has sort of shown me that if I ever do go to New York, I should be careful where I tread.

There isn’t much in the way of music, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. The film’s score is quite simple and relaxed at some parts, and pretty tense at more parts. The parts that are relaxed really give a feel of how it would feel to not be able to sleep and be in Travis’s situation of being lonely and just aimlessly going around life. I can’t say that it helps the audience to understand what it would be like to be Travis because, well, it’s music, but it does help to show how Travis’s mental state deteriorates further and further as the film’s story progresses, to the point that it just crashes and the score perfectly matches that.

Although it didn’t feel like it at first, Taxi Driver is now among some of the greatest films that I have ever seen. Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are just the perfect actor-director duo since pretty much everything that they make together (that I have seen) is just so good. I love it when a film actually makes me react to the events onscreen as they happen, rather my reactions being delayed or not occurring until the end of the film. Although pretty much every part of the film was perfect, it misses out on being rewarded a Golden UFO because at some parts of the film, I wasn’t sure of what was going on or where the story was going. I’m not sure why I waited so long to see this film, but I’m more than glad that I’ve seen it now!

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