Movie Review: Taxi Driver (1976)

Posted: December 4, 2011 in Drama

Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is  a cab driver suffering from insomnia  in 1970’s New York City.  He sees the seedy underbelly of the city, because he drives the cab late at night.  He obsesses over the sad state of the city, muggers, hookers, pimps are running rampant in the city, and he hates that aspect of the city, he wants desperately to clean up the city, but he doesn’t know how.  While driving through the city, Travis notices a pretty campaign worker named Betsy. (Cybil Sheppard)  Travis asks Betsy out on a date, they go to lunch, Betsy thinks he’s an odd bird, “half prophet-half pusher” she says.  But she is intrigued by him.  Travis has found something else to obsess over, no more the city, now Betsy.  He is so obsessed by her, he actually meets Charles Palentine, (Leonard Harris) the presidential candidate that Betsy is working for.  He doesn’t know Palentine from a hole in the ground, but after a 10 minute cab ride, Palentine is suitably impressed.

Betsy and Travis actually go on a second date, and because he is a loner, and doesn’t know how to socialize with women, Travis taxes Betsy to an X-rated movie.  Clearly disturbed by the date, Betsy ends the date abruptly and refuses to answer Travis’ repeated phone calls and flowers.  Travis doesn’t take the breakup well, he’s got a plan to fix everything, and a new girl to obsess over, an underage prostitute named Iris . (Jodie Foster)  Travis advises Iris to move back home with her parents even as he goes forward with his plan.  Does Iris move away?  Does Travis’ plan ever come to fruition?

This is a fascinating movie.  Travis Bickle is an iconic character, and as soon as a viewer sees this character, the viewer is transfixed.  Bickle is a walking contradiction, he hates hookers and pimps, but takes a respectable girl to an X-rated movie and absolutely cannot comprehend why she is repulsed.  There is a dichotomy to this character, on the one hand he seems like a normal if somewhat eccentric person to his cabbie buddies, and to others around him, but what he’s got brewing in his head is definitely not normal, or even eccentric.  The direction by Martin Scorcese is top notch, the viewer sees new York from every angle, crane shots, low shots, shots of every angle and dimension.  When it rains, the viewer feels the wetness.  One thing that everyone has to know, the New York City in the 1970’s was another character in this movie.  The grit, the grime, the filth, of New York was perfectly captured in this film, this movie couldn’t have been made today, the city is too sanitized post-Guiliani.  I do have one criticism, I think writer Paul Schrader and Scorcese copped out with the ending.  It was driving toward a much grittier ending and it seemed like someone changed their mind.

The acting in a cast headed by DeNiro is also first rate, I forgive DeNiro all the Folker movies once I see this movie again. It was amazing to see all the New York actors in this movie in their prime, Peter Boyle as DeNiro’s cabbie buddy, a sleazy Harvey Keitel, as a smooth talking pimp, and ok course DeNiro, the ultimate New York actor, who gives a very understated performance as Travis Bickle.  And of course, there’s a very young Jodie Foster giving the performance of her life as the young hooker who is trapped by circumstance. This is an amazing movie. Albert Brooks is in this movie, oddly playing the same smart aleck role he plays in his comedy roles, so it’s not much of a stretch for him.

Taxi Driver:  Drive yourself crazy.

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