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Taxi Driver: 1976 (R) -
USA / Columbia Pictures
98% (CF)





The more things change the more they stay the same. What more can I say about Taxi Driver? I mean when I did my last review I wrote a very long review of this film that told my exact feelings about this film in great detail. I am going to repost that review here, but in actuality what more can I add? I guess there is one more thing to say.

When I first wrote my review a year ago I said that this movie gets better and better every time I watch it. But it is more than that really. With the more life experience I gain and the more I grow as a person, it offers me new ways to look at this film; new interpretations and angles to explore. This film literally has grown with me through my adult life. With the rise of the internet, film sites like this one and streaming you can find a new great film every week. But to find a film that grows with you. You find that maybe once in a lifetime. And with that in mind, Taxi Driver will always be my favorite film of all time.



My original review:

Taxi Driver is often named as one of the greatest movies Martin Scorsese has ever made, and it has made quite a few lists of the greatest movies ever made. And it is very easy to see why. The movie is set in 1970’s New York City when Times Square was still seedy as hell and New York City as a whole was considered a cesspool. Watching this movie really reflects that feeling. From some of the neighborhoods, people in the background, the sex shops and porno theaters, to character’s apartments you really feel like this city is starting to crumble. Especially since very little of anything redeeming is shown. The protagonist is an honorably discharged Marine by the name of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro). He describes himself as “God’s lonely man” suffering from isolation and the after effects of the Vietnam War. He also has a very difficult time connecting to people, even though he tries to do so on several occasions. He suffers from insomnia, and as a result takes a job as a taxi driver working nights “anytime anyplace.” When he is not working he has a habit of going to porno theaters and keeping a diary. His diary expresses the frustrations of a man who sees nothing but filth around him. We also see that Bickle is (among other things) a racist, a homophobe, and a tad sexist. But all is not lost for Travis, as there is one beautiful thing in NYC, as he introduces himself to Betsy (Cybil Shepard) a woman who is working for the presidential campaign of Democratic politician Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Betsy also seems to be a lonely person in New York, (after all she agreed to go out with Travis after the most awkward beginning to a courtship I have ever seen). Awkwardness aside, it seems Travis is doing well, he goes on a lunch date and he asks her out for a second date. She says yes. The second date is an unmitigated disaster. Betsy breaks off contact with Travis, and now with nothing left that is beautiful in his life and completely alone; he sinks into a deep and dark depression.

After a very disturbing fare (played by Scorsese himself), Travis goes to talk to a fellow cab driver Wizard (Peter Boyle). Travis expresses he has some bad thoughts in his head, and Wizard does little to dissuade those thoughts. After that, Travis begins to get “orga-ni-zied”, and he sets his sights on killing Charles Palantine. He arms himself and begins a physical training regimen that gets him into shape. Also in proper military fashion he acquires a secondary target, a young prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), or more accurately her pimp “Sport” (Harvey Keitel). Travis becomes obsessed with Iris and wants to see her stop hooking and return home to Pittsburgh so she can live a normal life. The movie moves along at a fairly slow pace, but it gets kicked up a notch for a few minutes at the end. Where Travis releases his anger and frustration, and engages in one of the most violent and gritty shootouts of all time! The movie presents a more negative view of vigilantism than a movie like The Dark Knight, in which you know that Batman is the good guy because… he’s Batman! Travis Bickle on the other hand is not a hero. He does have good qualities; he wants more from his life then self pleasure, honorable military service, wants to help Iris, and he prevents an armed robbery of a local convenience store. But he is obviously suffering from some serious psychological issues, and any good qualities he has get overshadowed by the fact that he means to kill a presidential candidate.

The ending shows the power of perception. Travis fails to shoot Palantine, but succeeds in killing Sport and the Mafioso who happens to be there, thus freeing Iris. As such, Travis gets celebrated in the press as a hero who takes the law into his own hands and fights the scum of New York City. But had he been a little quicker on the draw he would have been reviled as a murderer and a monster. He also wins back the affections of Betsy at the end of the movie showing that the one beautiful thing in all New York has not abandoned him. But when he gives a final look back in the rear view mirror, it does suggest he is still unstable and could snap again. A second interpretation reflects Martin Scorsese’s religious leanings. Scorsese was raised Catholic and at one point wanted to go into the priesthood before he chose a film career. Scorsese once compared Bickle as a saint who wishes to purify his mind and body early in the movie. Travis begins this purification by eating right, exercising, and by not popping pills. After he decides to go after Palantine he holds his hand over a flame on his oven. One can see this as Travis just being crazy, but famed critic Roger Ebert seems to suggest he is testing the fires of Hell. The idea does fit as Travis is still living in sin even though he is in the process of purifying himself. He stills goes to porno theaters and he continues his violent plans against Palantine. But at the same time he does want redemption, and he finds the key to his redemption in Iris. After the failure to kill Palantine he goes off to save Iris himself, and he is celebrated as a hero. Does this mean Travis finds redemption in reality or in his mind? That is up to the viewer.

The movie is pure genius! In fact I only have one very minor gripe with the movie. When Travis meets Easy andy to get some guns, he chooses 4 pistols. The first is the Smith & Wesson Model 29 in 44 Magnum, a Smith & Wesson snub nose 38 SPL, a Walther PPK in 380 ACP, and a Colt 25 ACP he turns into his sleeve gun. My only issue with this scene is Travis Bickle is an ex-Marine, and in the suitcase is a perfectly good 1911A1 in 45 ACP, a gun he would be very familiar with from his time in the USMC. The Model 29 is even called unsuitable by Fast Eddie himself. So why does Travis choose the 44 Magnum and not the trusty 45? My best guess is this was more of an influence of the Dirty Harry movie than anything else. After all Dirty Harry was released only 5 years before this movie, and the writer Paul Schrader and Scorsese most likely saw it. Robert De Niro plays Travis as a man unhinged in spectacular fashion. De Niro is one of those actors who have the ability to melt into the role. Any trace of him as an actor is gone and all that is left is the character. Part of that has to do with De Niro’s method style of acting.

Travis Bickle is based upon Arthur Bremer, the would-be assassin who shot Presidential candidate George Wallace. This man’s diaries had been published, and De Niro listened to taped readings. In addition, De Niro got himself a cab license and drove around New York City picking up fares. De Niro also interviewed a few soldiers to get down the Middle America way of talking that he does in the movie. That is incredible dedication. In addition to De Niro’s acting, actress Jodie Foster’s acting is FANTASTIC! Part of what makes her performance so good is that she was 14 when this movie was shot, and she is showing more talent as a teenager then some big name actresses are showing as adults in movies today *cough* Jessica Alba! That is impressive, and shows why she is one of my favorite actresses! The Bernard Herrmann score for this movie is haunting! It sets the mood and perfectly sets the tone for the movie. What do you expect from the guy who did the scores for Citizen Kane, Psycho, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and Vertigo?

In addition to all the praise I can heap on this movie, I can identify with the theme of loneliness. After I graduated from college, I opted to stay in Tallahassee to attend graduate school and earn my masters degree. After that, all my college friends and roommates moved away and left me alone in Tallahassee. I was not a drinker at the time, I am not a pot head, and I hate the bar and club scenes. And since that is about 95% of all social interactions in Tallahassee, for two years I lived pretty much like a hermit. The film is also directed by my favorite director of all time, Martin Scorsese. The movie keeps to Scorsese’s themes of urban crime and grit (where he is at his best).

The movie was also a financial success, taking in $28 million on a $1.3 million budget. The movie does have a few controversies however. It will always be linked to the attempted shooting of President Ronald Regan, as Hinckley tried to kill Regan to impress Jodie Foster. What a nutjob. It also had to be edited at the end to get an R rating. The final shoot out, was deemed too graphic by the MPAA, and the colors had to be desaturated to allow the blood to appear brighter and somehow less offensive. Killjoys. But Scorsese said in the end he liked the change. There were also a few people concerned about Jodie Foster being in the movie with more graphic scenes she was in like the final shoot-out and when Travis first meets her in person pretending to be a john. For more graphic scenes of a sexual nature Jodie actually had her older sister as a body double. And as for the final shootout, she was there for the set up of the scenes and effects so she could see what was going to happen. This helped alleviate potential trauma to the young actress.

But the controversies aside, I still love this movie. And I am not the only one who loves this movie, as it was nominated for four Academy Awards, won 3 BAFTA awards, and won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival (the highest honor they have). And the late Roger Ebert also called it one of the best films he has ever seen. And to top it off it was added to the National Film Registry to be preserved for all time in the Library of Congress, as it is deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” to film. My love for this movie is also part of the reason I am not a Rocky fan, it won for best picture in 1976 beating out this movie. And the lack of a Best Director nomination for Scorsese is one of many beefs I have with the Academy. It also shows that you don’t have to do a movie about a good guy to make a great movie. De Niro would continue to make movies with Scorsese in the same vein with movies like Goodfellas, Casino, the Cape Fear remake, and Raging Bull. But this is the movie that is my personal favorite pairing of the two and in my opinion Scorsese’s best. It is a perfect blend of gritty, sleazy, urban violence, character study, and beautiful cinematic art. It is also a movie I can say gets better every time I watch it. And there is no higher praise I can give to a movie. And it is my all time favorite movie.