The scum only come out at night.
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle, et al.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Runtime: 113 minutes
Plot: (Taken from IMDb) A mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran (who suffers from insomnia) works as a night-time taxi driver in New York City where the perceived decadence and sleaze feeds his urge for violent action, attempting to save a preadolescent prostitute in the process.
Taxi Driver has perhaps the seminal script in film from Paul Schrader, one of the finest actors to grace the screen in Robert De Niro and one of the best – if not the best – directors at its helm, no wonder it’s quite the masterpiece.
Taxi Driver places us in a New York that is full of scum, placing us in the backseat of Travis Bickle’s (De Niro) yellow cab. Travis Bickle is alienated, warped and distraught by what he sees whilst patrolling the city streets – he wants to get rid of the scum. Only two people in the whole of New York offer brightness in Travis’ dark days, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and Iris (Jodie Foster). But for entirely different reasons they must be saved.
The plot in Taxi Driver flows wonderfully off the screen and into our consciences, making us think really about what is right and wrong when it comes to the greater good over the worst evil. Iris is a child prostitute, and what Travis wants more than anything is to save her, but the way he goes about it is horrific. Is it right to be so violent when it is over a cause like saving a child from prostitution? That’s for you to decide, but it makes for a disturbing, enthralling film.
Betsy, on the other hand, is part of the political machine, a machine Travis does not see working properly. Indeed, the film acts as a social critique on the political landscape of the 1970s, capturing in one man what a nation must have felt – distrust.
Never before or after has the theme of distrust felt as poignant as it does here, distrust leads to isolation, isolation leads to alienation and alienation leads to violence. It’s handled well throughout the film, with the intensity becoming fierce in the latter stages – when Travis shaves his head.
However, what Scorsese or Schrader didn’t do amazingly well was depicting the true intensity of Travis’ psychosis, as it only really becomes evident in the eruption. Maybe this was intentional, as it really makes the sudden outburst seem more shocking than it would have done otherwise, meaning we would not have gotten one of the best endings of all time, but a predictable one.
Taxi Driver’s real achievement is how effortless everything looks (despite the amount of effort put into making the film). Every shot looks fantastic, the colours are rich, detailed yet muted and it all looks incredibly crisp, each shot melding wonderfully with the soundtrack – one of the medium’s best. Huge congrats go to the technical department and Scorsese here in the making of this film.
It is the acting that seals it. De Niro has never been as good as he is here, his smirk in particular works awesomely, Jodie Foster as the distressed, but confident Iris is one of the finest performances of the last century and the rest of the cast really perform well. But this is De Niro’s film, Taxi Driver just would not be the masterwork it is without him, this film defined the careers of both him and Scorsese as forces to be reckoned with.
Indeed, Scorsese himself plays a part, as one of Travis’ customers; he is the one that breaks Travis, all delivered in one monologue about what he is going to do to his wife and her lover. It’s a dark scene, one of the darkest in a very dark picture, but it gets the point across: This was a disillusioned, alienated time in the USA.
Finely acted, wonderfully shot and scored, Taxi Driver is for me Scorsese’s and De Niro’s masterpiece, a haunting piece on isolation, violence and the human condition in what was a fraudulent time for the USA.
If you haven’t seen this, please do. If you have seen it, watch it again.