A Retro Hollywood Movie Review
I first saw Taxi Driver roughly 15 years ago, I had always loved Martin Scorsese’s films but for some reason I had never got around to watching perhaps one of his greatest films. Sure I had heard amazing things about Taxi Driver and did not doubt them, but the movie always fell to the back of my playlist. It wasn’t until I was called out during a heated debate over Scorsese’s best films that I had finally forced myself to sit down and watch it.
Instantly the narrative of this film hit me and I realized I was watching a true masterpiece. So much so, the following day I had to rewatch it and found myself obsessed with every nuance of the film. To this day Taxi Driver remains one of my top Hollywood movies that I fall back on when in need of some cinematic magic.
Taxi Driver tells the story of Travis Bickle, who is brilliantly portrayed by Robert De Niro, a Vietnam War veteran who is the definition of a loner. He is in nearly every shot in Taxi Driver so we only see things from his point of view. He has a morbid fascination with the low life of the city and chooses to drive his taxi at night in the seediest areas. 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.
Travis has problems relating with people in general and women in particular. Surprisingly he manages to make a date with an attractive lady (Cybill Shepherd) much to the annoyance of her workmate (Albert Brooks) who has been rebuffed by her. However, the taxi driver makes a big mistake by taking her out to a porno movie and she immediately ends the relationship. Later we see him phoning her and she rejects any further contact. The camera slowly pans away as if it is too painful to watch the rejection. This and many other scenes throughout the film portray the raw, powerful cityscape distubia examination of Scorsese’s long-standing career, that even now hits like a bullet between the eyes.
Jodie Foster‘s controversial casting as 12 year old prostitute Iris was judged perfectly and Foster delivers a performance that brings a reality to her situation and makes Bickle’s quest to ‘rescue’ her from her current existence a believable one. Originally Harvey Keitel was set to play the role of Tom, Betsy’s fellow campaign worker. Thankfully Keitel saw more potential in the role of the Iris’ pimp and requested that he be given this part. (The role of Tom was largely a thankless part and was played by comedian Albert Brooks) Keitel’s wish was granted and his turn as the despicable pimp, Sport, is something of a revelation. Donning a hippy wig and garish 70s garb, Keitel is virtually unrecognisable in the role (in all honesty, I didn’t even realise it was him on first viewing until the end credits rolled). He expertly brings the seedy dominance of the character to life, none more so than in a scene where, following her breakfast with Bickle, Iris is despairing over her forced profession. The scene culminates in Sport dancing with Iris and whispering literal sweet nothings into her ear to reassure her. It’s a relatively small role for Keitel, but he leaves a considerable mark, in spite of playing opposite a top-of-his-game DeNiro. His improvised exchange with DeNiro (“Buddy, you don’t look hip!”) on the sidewalk is superbly played out and Sport completely symbolises all that Bickle hates and therefore is doomed to fall in the way of Bickle’s subsequent path of destruction.
The use of a traditional musical score rather than a popular music soundtrack is a glaring reflection of how out of step Bickle is with the society and culture around him. Scorsese’s artistic choices for Taxi Driver are spot on. I suppose it’s just a bonus that he himself delivers just about the greatest cameo ever as a deranged passenger of Bickle’s, contemplating how he’s going to kill his wife. This, coupled with the use of Bernard Hermann as composer, means parallels with Hitchcock will undoubtedly be drawn. The film’s climax involving bloody carnage and (supposed) redemption for Bickle is Scorsese at his visceral best. The shot of Bickle mimicking shooting himself in the head as blood drips from his finger is one of the most striking images you’re likely to experience. As the camera trawls though the wake of Bickle’s fury, we’re taken past blood-soaked walls and floors. It’s almost as if, through Bickle’s actions, the red haze that pollutes his world and fuels his disillusionment has finally taken a form that can be washed away.
What is there left to say about Taxi Driver that hasn’t been said already? Come for the astounding aesthetics, hardhitting, nihilistic story and dark, feverish noir perception. Taxi Driver Is a must see.