Taxi Driver

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Paul Schrader.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle, Leonard Harris, Joe Spinell, Victor Argo, Martin Scorsese, Diahnne Abbott, Steven Prince, Norman Matlock.

Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up against the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is a man who stood up.

Now regarded as a cinematic classic, I have to admit that Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” was always a film that left me as isolated as it’s lead character. The first time I saw it, I thought it vastly overrated. Admittedly, I was in my teens at this point and never managed to fully grasp it’s themes. With each viewing it did grow in stature but I could never really get over my initial judgement. It’s not often that I’ll backtrack on my opinion but I have now come full circle and can appreciate just how good a film it is, and why it’s regarded as one of the true greats of American cinema.

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Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is a lonely, mentally unstable taxi driver who scours New York City every night where he becomes increasingly disgusted with the seedy cesspool around him. He attempts to strike up a connection with local presidential campaign worker, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) but when that falls flat, he takes it upon himself to change things and fails again in an assassination attempt on the Senator himself (Leonard Harris). Determined to make a difference, he turns his mind to rescuing Iris (Jodie Foster), a preadolescent prostitute from the clutches of her pimp and lover, Sport (Harvey Keitel).

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Opening with Bernard Herrmann’s distinctive and sleazy score, we are thrust into the nightlife of New York City where there’s a blaze of neon light reflected on the streets and rainswept windscreens. The grim debauchery of the city is captured to perfection by Michael Chapman’s striking cinematography. As much as Herrmann and Chapman play a major part in the proceedings, though, so too does the unsettling delivery of DeNiro in a bravura show of restraint and suggestion. The film wastes no time in introducing us to his iconic Travis Bickle: a 26 year old, Vietnam veteran and insomniac who struggles to socially connect. This truly is one of DeNiro’s finest moments onscreen. He would receive a well deserved, Oscar nomination and to actually win the award would not have been out of place either. It’s a captivating performance and it’s hard to avert your eyes from his intensity. Speaking of eyes, it’s easy to lose count of the amount of times that DeNiro acts with them alone. He’s not always required to speak as his eyes – either directly or indirectly – speak volumes. We often get a glimpse of them as he observes the city’s inhabitants through his rear view mirror and there’s a lot going on. Behind them, a simmering menace and desperation are so expressively captured and Scorsese is wise to focus on them. Essentially Travis’ eyes are our own in this debauched and immoral world of degenerates. Even DeNiro’s (now infamous) “You talkin’ to me?” ad-lib stems from him observing himself in the mirror and playing out his deranged fantasies. Whether intentional or not, Scorsese’s use of mirrors play quite a significant part in reflecting Travis’ alienation and paranoid psychosis.

As for the Big Apple itself, Scorsese has regularly been known for his ability to capture it in the minutest detail but “Taxi Driver” has to be the most descriptive he’s ever been. Through Travis’ perspective, he depicts it as a nightmarish, hell on earth; the steam rising from the street vents and crime and prostitution at every corner. This is a city that’s depicted with dark and repugnant depths as the dirt and grime oozes from it’s pores. Our troubled protagonist struggles to come to term with it as we observe his increasing frustration and distance. We feel his alienation and through his diary entries we are allowed to hear his innermost thoughts. It’s unnerving to see Travis’ decent and the dangerous fragility of his mental health. When he finally attests to having “… some bad ideas in my head“, we realise that the depravity of this environment is dangerously permeating this man’s psyche.

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At one point Travis is compared the lyrics of Kris Kristofferson’s song He’s a Pilgrim: “… a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction. Taking every wrong direction on his lonley way back home” which is cleverly dropped in at an early point in the film but only makes complete sense when his odyssey is over. It’s moments like this that only serve as a reminder of the layers in Paul Schrader’s script. This isn’t simply about one man’s struggle with society but an astute, psychological character study that ambiguously treads a fine line between redemption and damnation while leaving us to question our interpretation of events. The denouement is particularly interesting and although Schrader himself has stated that the closing “could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie started all over again” suggesting that what we’ve witnessed falls more into the damnation element of Travis, there also exists a sequence that could arguably be claimed as redemptive which would leave Travis Bickle as one of cinema’s most intriguing (and contradictory) anti-hero’s.

Almost 40 years on and now firmly part of American film culture, this still packs as much power as it did upon its release. It’s just a shame that it’s taken me all of 20 years to fully appreciate it. A reappraisal of this film was always a major requirement of mine but by going into it with a more open mind, I can honestly say that I feel I’ve experienced “Taxi Driver” as if it was my first time and that experience was, simply, magnificent.

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Included in My Top Ten Movies

Mark Walker

Trivia: Lone assassin John Hinckley’s attempt on US President Ronald Reagan’s life (Monday, 30th March 1981) was apparently triggered by Robert DeNiro’s obsessive Travis Bickle and his plot to assassinate a presidential candidate. Coincidentally the assassination attempt caused the 53rd Academy Awards ceremonies to be postponed for one day until Tuesday, 31st March 1981 when DeNiro won his Best Actor Oscar for “Raging Bull”.

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60 Responses to “Taxi Driver”

  1. Can’t argue with anything you’ve said here Mark. This was the first Scorsese film I saw and is still one of my favourites of his. Travis is probably the very definition of anti-hero. Top review mate!

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    • Cheers Chris. Like I mention, it took me years to fully appreciate this. It didn’t do much for me when I first seen it but I was too young at the time. Recently, I sat down to give it my full attention and it fucking blew me away, man. I’m disappointed in myself for not grasping it all sooner.

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  2. Find review Mark. You are spot on about Scorsese’s depiction of New York City. But what I always found as brilliant was his clever use of Shepherd’s character. She is absolutely stunning in this film – a true beauty. Bickle’s vision of her is such a sharp contrast to his vision of the city. In fact one ends up consuming the other.

    So many amazing points about this film.

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    • Cheers bro! That’s a great point about Shepherd’s character Betsy. It through his advances to her that Travis actually tries to become part of society and her eventual rebuffing that leads him down a darker road. He loses all hope that he had for a positive life. A great contrast. Like you say, though, there are so many things to point out. It’s an outstanding flick.

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  3. Ah, excellent review as always Mark. I keep threatening to watch this again… maybe I will do it this week when I am on leave!

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    • Thanks Zoe! I had been meaning to watch it again for ages. When I finally gave it my undivided attention, it blew me away. I actually want to see again as soon as possible.

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      • Sheesh Mark, I wonder if I can deal with another movie with that effect on me at the moment (I just watched The Godfather Part 1 & 2, and all I want to do is go back and watch them again and again and again) ahahaha. But I think you were onto something after threatening to get to it and then finally doing it. I must do this, too!

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      • Haha! That what tends to happen with the classics, Zoe. I can’t believe I never really seen Taxi Driver as a classic, though. I had to revisit it as I suspected I must have been missing something. Turns out I was. This is an amazing film that I’m even strongly considering entering into my personal top ten!

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      • Ah, the classics! I will have to watch it again (it has been WAY too many years for me), so I want to watch it and pick it apart again. WOW Mark it must have thrilled the HELL out of you, your top ten is not something that is simply changed just for the hell of it!

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      • Indeed! My personal top ten has remained the same for years now. Nothing has ever really came close to getting in there. Now, I have to give it some serious thought and I reckon I just might do so.

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      • Please keep me posted as to what you are going to do about this dilemma. I would love to know!

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      • Haha! I will most certainly keep you informed.

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  4. Fine review and tribute to a great film, Mark.

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    • Much obliged, Michael. I can’t believe I wasn’t taken with the film sooner. I never disliked it but always thought it was praised too highly. Know, I completely eat my words. I’ve never been more wrong in judging a film.

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  5. daveackackattack Says:

    How ironic is it that I’m sitting here with my Travis Bickle shirt on today.

    I wouldn’t be so hard on yourself for not appreciating the film in your youth. It was a dark, ultraviolent, urban, American story set in the mean streets of NYC with a moody jazz soundtrack underscoring the action. Paul Schrader’s writing on films like like Raging Bull, Affliction, American Gigolo, Light Sleeper, Hardcore, The Last Temptation of Christ ain’t exactly the stuff that brings in the teen demographic. I can’t even recommend Taxi Driver to most of the people I now know. I have pretty dark tastes in films so Taxi Driver, A Clockwork Orange, Fight Club and Trainspotting are right up my alley. Most other people find those films just horrifying. LOL.

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    • Ha! Sitting with your Travis shirt on? Perfect timing. Yeah, I’m really disappointed in myself for not coming round to this sooner. Better late than never I suppose. My tastes in films are pretty dark too. That’s why I was always perplexed why I couldn’t really get into Taxi Driver. Quite simply, I was a fucking idiot!!! ;) It’s a stupendous film.

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  6. Mark, outstanding review. Love the mash-ups. I wish I knew how to do them. Anyway, I couldn’t agree with you more! Top 10 films ever and still my favorite DeNiro role. I love how Travis transforms from isolation into hero. I like Jodi Foster a lot, and she was great in this and Travis trying to save her was what made the audience fall in love with him (me anyway). Great post :)

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    • Thanks Cindy! I’m so glad I have this film a reappraisal. It was always a film that I thought I was missing something. When I was a teenager, it didn’t really float my boat, so to speak but now, I can’t praise it highly enough. 20 years is a long time to round to a film but I, admittedly, have in this case. Superb.

      By the mash-up’s do you mean those little moving images? I’m not sure how to do them on computer but I could teach you how to do them on your phone. That’s how I done them.

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  7. I’ve only seen this once and have to admit, I felt the same way you did upon first viewing. Another watch is definitely in order though, I feel bad for not appreciating Taxi Driver as much as I probably should. It has so many tremendous component parts – the score, the script, the performances, the visual sheen. Hopefully when watching it again, all these great elements will mesh together. Awesome review Mark!

    Adam.

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  8. Great article Mark!

    …it’s a grower. Not in the sense that you don’t get what makes the film so great at the beginning but that your appreciation develops the more you see it. Taxi Driver is one of those films that seem to get better every time I see them. A brilliant piece of work.

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    • Cheers Dan. It certainly is a grower and my appreciation went through the roof on my last visit. Such a great film and one that I won’t be leaving too long before seeing it again.

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      • There are other Scorsese films – my favorites, in fact – that are similarly “growers” – After Hours and The King of Comedy. I’d say, alongside Taxi Driver, those are my top 3 Scorsese flicks.

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      • I’d still like to give After Hours another viewing, Dan, but I did watch The King of Comedy back-to-back with Taxi Driver. My post will be up today.

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  9. Nice review and I’m glad you turned around. This is in my own personal top 3 of all time and Bickle’s my favorite movie character. Taxi Driver hits me hard every time I see it.

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    • Thank you sir! A definite turn around for me. I never disliked but I didn’t quite catch why it was loved so much. Now I do, though. I can totally see why it would in your top three and why DeNiro’s performance is a favourite of yours. Outstanding stuff.

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  10. One of my very favourite films. You’ve done it fantastic justice Mark. Sterling work.

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    • Thank you sir! It’s always hard attempting a review of a classic that’s been covered so many times. What else is there to say, really? I often find these types of films hard to write about but I still enjoy giving it a go.

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  11. “I can honestly say that I feel I’ve experienced “Taxi Driver” as if it was my first time and that experience was, simply, magnificent.”

    That’s just great man. Isn’t that one of the best feelings, to feel like you’re watching a film you love for the first time?

    Taxi Driver has been my favorite film for years, and I loved everything about this review. Well done!

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    • Thanks Alex. It was such a pleasure to see this again recently. I took so much from it that I never took before. It’s an outstanding piece of work. I never praised it that highly in the past but I certainly do now!

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  12. Great review dude. An iconic film.

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  13. Top review as always Mark. What can I add that hasn’t already been said about Scorcesse’s magnum opus? Absolutely nothing, except that it is films like this that remind me why I love the medium and art form so much.

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    • Cheers Allan. You’re absolutely right. It is films like this that stand the test of time and show just how effective film can be as a medium. They’re also hard to write about as everything has been said already but it’s always nice to try anyway.

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  14. Victor De Leon Says:

    Nice write up, Mark. I knew this would be a great read. I am so glad that Netflix made it available for streaming here in the states. Good work, man!

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    • Cheers Vic. If Netflix have made it available to stream then there’s no time like the present for a revisit. You won’t regret it, man. It’s was brilliant to see it again after so many years.

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  15. Fantastic timing, Mark! I actually just watched this again last night. :D Much like you, I appreciated it after my first viewing, but it wasn’t until I rewatched it that I truly realized what a masterpiece this is. It really is a remarkable film, and De Niro’s performance grows to be downright frightening. Excellent review, man.

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    • Excellent to hear that someone, other than myself, has relived this fantastic film, Eric. Will you be posting a recent review? I’d be very much interested in reading your thoughts in detail.

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  16. Great review Mark, I know I should watch this at some point :)

    “It’s just a shame that it’s taken me all of 20 years to fully appreciate it” Interesting how a subsequent viewing of something could alter one’s opinion about something. I felt that way about a recent film (well TV miniseries actually) and it boggled the mind how I felt so differently on first viewing.

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    • Thanks Ruth. You know my appreciation for DeNiro so it was always something that bugged me that I couldn’t quite see what other were seeing in Taxi Driver. That’s all changed now, though. It’s absolutely superb and definitely one of DeNiro’s finest moments.

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  17. Great review Mark, I saw this film back in high school and I fell in love with it. I still can’t decide if this is the best Scorsese’s film or Goodfellas. It’s such a great character study of a psychopath and I thought the “happy” ending was just perfect.

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    • Thanks Ted. I wish could honestly say the same. I didn’t fall in love with Taxi Driver straight away but in hindsight, my judgment was severely off. It may have taken me a while but I can now say with conviction that it is, undoubtedly, one of Scorsese’s best films.

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  18. Nice one Mark, enjoyed reading this re-appraisal, it really is a top film and I have a similar relationship with Raging Bull (when I first saw it as a teenager I found parts of it boring, but every time I’ve watched it since I’ve thought better of it). It’s interesting to see Taxi Driver in relation to the rest of Scorsese’s career – probably the most punk, most snarling, attitude-fuelled film of his. Great work too by all those you mention that he collaborated with.

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    • Cheers Stu! You’re spot on with this being the most snarling that Scorsese has been. There’s an authentic rawness that’s hard to shake off as it really brings the film alive. Added to which, everyone else onboard are playing at the very pinnacle of their powers, man. Such a great, great film. I’m happy that I decided to have a reappraisal and even happier that it worked out as well as it did.

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  19. Its good to go back to films and have a rethink … I really liked this piece. I find it hard to be objective as I immersed myself in this film when I was in my twenties. I have a scrap-book of articles, clippings and early news-group discussions (remember those?) about this film.

    The more that you watch it, you realise that it is more of an allegory than a psycho-drama and Travis becomes a sympathetic everyman.

    Maybe I’m too close to it!

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    • Thanks Dirk. I can totally understand this being a film you can get too close to as when I was writing I had all sorts of theories about how Travis’ odyssey played out and why there were such continuity issues with DeNiro’s hairstyle at times. I entertained the fact that it could be signalling his fractured mental state. Upon a little more digging, it transpired that it was likely due to reshoots and Scorsese wasn’t really working from a subconscious level. However, that’s the beauty of the film – even the accidents or inconsistencies add to people’s interpretation. It works on so many levels (all-be-it unintentionally sometimes)

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  20. Great review of a great movie, Mark. Can’t disagree on anything you’ve said. That said, you can stop kicking yourself about not loving it sooner. Sometimes the journeys that take us the longest are the ones we appreciate the most.

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    • Thanks a lot Wendell. I have been kicking myself, for sure but you’re spot on: it may have taken me some time but this is now a film that I can’t praise highly enough.

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  21. It has been far too long since I last seen it, so can’t remember much of it. Then a couple of years ago I bought the special edition DVD of it, planning to rewatch it, but until now I still haven’t….this reminds me I should do so :)

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    • Get that special edition on Nostra. I used to think the film was a tad overrated but not anymore. A recent rewatch served me very well. It’s a superb movie and no mistake.

      Like

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