Taxi Driver (1976)

Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader

Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro are all legendary within the film world. Each is almost synonymous with either of the other two it seems. Scorsese and De Niro have collaborated to make some wonderful films and perhaps Taxi Driver is each of their greatest known, though that could be debatable as each has a spectacular set of films to call their own. Whatever the case may be, these three are all important to the history of film in their own ways, so when I sat down to watch this film for the first time, you can imagine that my expectations were pretty high. But other than expecting it to be a great film, I really didn’t have any preconceived notions about the film. Somehow I had avoided any kind of spoilers or plot descriptions.

So to spoil your party if you haven’t seen it yet, here is the spoiler free plot description. Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a normal guy living in New York City in the 70s just trying to get by. Well, maybe he isn’t quite as normal as most people. He is perpetually lonely and works long hours at night because he cannot sleep. He frequents dirty adult theaters and a particular campaign assistant, the lovely Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), has caught his eye. So he begins to court her. Meanwhile, he discovers the pretty, but extremely underage, prostitute Iris, or “Easy” (Jodie Foster). His inability to fit in with what he calls a dirty, mess of a town, seems to drive him to the edge of sanity.

The film succeeds because of its mood and tempo. It is a slow moving affair, but it works within the story and the character of Travis. What aids Scorsese and De Niro in their telling the story of Travis is the marvelous score by Bernard Herrmann. The quiet, jazzy tones of the score really set the mood of a late night taxi driver. And it sets on edge just enough to suggest the tweaked mind of the protagonist. It is a brilliant addition. But what Scorsese does so well without the score is really just focus on Travis, which allows De Niro plenty of opportunity to shine, but he does so in a refrained manner. His scenes with all the other characters play out so well in regards to getting to know the character, which really is a testament to both De Niro and Scorsese because the rest of the cast is phenomenal too.

Cybill Shepherd, whom I had not seen before this film, was not only beautiful, but she gave a very nice performance as well. Her interactions with both Travis and her co-worker Tom, played by the equally talented Albert Brooks, were just enough to get to know them as characters and serve their purpose within the storyline of Travis. Jodie Foster, who received an Academy Award nomination for her performance really gave the broken, pre-teen prostitute Iris the right amount of life and emotion, showing us that while she has lived a hard life, there is still innocence and joy behind the dark veil which has been placed on her by her surroundings, which include her pimp, Sport, who is played by the always spectacular Harvey Keitel.

I have to admit, the style of the film really threw me off from what I was expecting, but once I settled into it, I really enjoyed myself. I don’t think it was the best film I have seen, nor do I even feel like it is De Niro or Scorsese’s best. But that doesn’t also mean that they didn’t do outstanding work here. It deserves the praise it gets. I just kind of feel it is one of those that perhaps does not split audiences, which means pretty much everyone thinks it is a good movie, which doesn’t necessarily always also make it a great film. There were some really interesting underlying themes here as well, so perhaps with multiple viewings my favor will increase, but as it stands Taxi Driver is just another really good Scorsese/De Niro film.

P.S. Scorsese’s acting part in this was actually really good. I enjoyed it quite a bit and it may have been one of my favorite scenes.

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