Taxi Driver Reviews
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).
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's nightlife 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. At times, he doesn't even need 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.
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 on of cinema's most intriguing (and contradictory) anti-hero's.
Almost 40 years on and now firmly part of American film culture, this still has as much staying power as it had 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 have experienced "Taxi Driver" as if it was my first time and that experience was, simply, magnificent.
"He's a lonely forgotten man desperate to prove he's alive."
Taxi Driver is a phenomenal film. It's Martin Scorsese's first masterpiece and one that stands up as one of his best films, if not his best, after decades of great filmmaking. This is where all the promise of his first three films, Who's That Knocking at my Door?, Boxcar Bertha and Mean Streets, is fully realized. Taxi Driver is great on many levels. It's a gritty character study, that has elements of a former soldier trying to adjust back into normal society.
Travis Bickel is a Vietnam War vet who takes the night shift as a taxi driver in New York because he can't sleep at night. You could also call him a stalker. There's a woman, Betsy, who works for a presidential campaign that infatuates Travis and he makes sure he meets her. Then there's the twelve year old prostitute that makes Travis snap and seek out the people who control her. It's a slow build as Travis slowly loses his human side completely.
There's a great cast of young actors in the early years of their career here. Robert De Niro, Cybil Shepherd, Albert Brooks, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, and Peter Boyle; it doesn't get a whole lot better than that. Robert De Niro gives a haunting portrayal of Travis Bickel and his role here still stands as one of the best of his career. The other standout is the young Jodie Foster, who was always able to play extremely mature young women, as she did in The Girl Who Lives Down the Lane.
Taxi Driver is a film that cannot go unseen. It's widely considered one of the greatest American movies of all-time and there's good reason for that. There's so many reasons to watch this movie. From Scorsese to Paul Schrader's script to Robert De Niro, it's a film that has it all.
De Niro's first huge effort. Monumental, really. Assassin or savior? Life works on little twists of fate or circumstance sometimes. De Niro's final journey toward healing is one of the most harrowing sequences in movie history. What an intense acting job. Jodi Foster's great future acting career is assured.
In my room, where I have my collection of films, I have two posters of 'Taxi Driver', one regular size and one so big that I can't fit it in the room at this point. I've wanted to write a review of my favourite film for so long but I've been somewhat scared of failing... miserably. How to give 'Taxi Driver' a proper review from a person who doesn't make this for a living? Now is the time to give it a shot...
'Taxi Driver' had lots of difficulties to get into production. The studio executives weren't that excited about Paul Schrader's strange story about a cab driver called Travis Bickle. They were in fact more interested of his other script called 'Watch the Skies'. In the end, Spielberg would direct the film but before that he rewrote it and retitled it to 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind'. Schrader's two picture deal with Columbia made it possible to give birth to these two films. The budget for 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind' was rather big but the money that came over was enough to make 'Taxi Driver' possible.
Scorsese was not the first in mind to direct 'Taxi Driver'. Brian De Palma (Scarface', 'The Untouchables') was the first person that came in mind for directing duties for the producers. But Scorsese would get the job in the end. He had prior to 'Taxi Driver' made 'Mean Streets' and 'Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore' so he had proven to make good movies.
The film was given "a green light". All was set, the crew was hired and the actors were ready to make history... Next, some thoughts and facts of the key players in the making of 'Taxi Driver'.
De Niro is my all-time favourite actor. He is what you could call a method actor, focusing 100 % and preparing every detail of his character. For the role of Travis Bickle he got himself a cab licence and drove for a month on the streets of NY to understand the job. He met Army veterans to study their behavior.
As a kid, De Niro was somewhat of a loner, he'd rather read books than hang out with other kids. He has always had a need for privacy. Even on his later days he has tried to keep a distance to the media. During filming he stayed in character throughout the filming and kept his distance also to the other actors. He rarely socialized with them, only when necessary.
De Niro's challenge was to make Travis Bickle into a complex and troubling character, a character that would be remembered long after the release of the film. In my opinion, he did an amazing job. Bickle is a psychotic racist, driven by his past. A person who sees the impurity of men at night. He is nothing but a bystander who will stand up in the end. De Niro managed to make him a sympathetic character, laking any social skills, with an unstable personality and repressed feelings.
"You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin' to? You talkin' to me? Well I'm the only one here. Who do you think you're talking to? Oh yeah? Huh? Ok."
It's a good thing that Scorsese did not join priesthood. He's somewhat religious even today but he managed to flunk his studies and attended a film school. I'm not religious at all.. but "thank God"! What I've heard, Scorsese had some difficulties with intoxicants throughout the 60's and 80's. I've even read that during filming he would snort some lines... When you look at his performance as the jealous husband in one scene it really doesn't come as a surprise. Scorsese did not intend to make a performance in the movie but what I've read, the person who was cast for the role didn't show up. So Scorsese made his own memorable contribution...
"Have you ever seen what a .44 Magnum will do to a woman's pussy? Now that you should see. What a .44 Magnum will do to a woman's pussy that you should see."
Schrader managed to give Bickle's character similarities to a real life person called Arthur Bremer. Bremer tried to kill US president Nixon and governor Wallace. The later one he managed to paralyze. Bremer kept a diary with him which was released in 1973 as 'An Assassin's Diary'. Schrader has told that he hadn't read the diary when he wrote 'Taxi Driver'.
I've read that Schrader has said that during writing he suffered of depression and even had some suicidal thoughts. A loner who would just drift around on the streets and explore the distress of other loners. Not sure if all of what I've read is true but at least he has written an excellent script on which the actors and Scorsese could base their work on.
Of course, Bickle has to have something that drives him besides his hate towards the scum and other low-lifes of NYC. 'Taxi Driver' has two female characters that become important to Bickle. In my opinion the more important one is Jodie Foster's character Iris. Iris is a child prostitute who left home and started walkin' the streets. The character has a certain innocence in her, something that would also affect Bickle. During filming, Foster was only 12-13 years old. Scorsese did not put her in the explicit or intimate scenes, for instance the scene in which Iris puts her hands on Bickle's zipper.
By the way, Foster's performance was modeled on a real-life teen prostitute. This woman was hired as a consultant to Foster and even had a small part as Iris's friend.
This superb portrayal of a teen prostitute gave Jodie Foster, a former Disney child actor, her first Oscar nomination. Little did she know that her performance would have an impact on her life later on by a person called John Hinckley...
"I don't like what I'm doing, Sport."
Cybill Shepherd has the other important female role as Betsy. A real dream girl with golden hair and white dresses, always cheerful, she is the opposite of Bickle with her optimism. Bickle's ultimate fantasy woman. It was close that Shepherd would not be given the role. In fact, I've even read that she wasn't that eager to take the role after reading the script. I've also read that De Niro and Shepherd did not come that good together on the set. Maybe because of De Niro staying in character or something else?
But even though De Niro and the producers were not that convinced of Shepherd's acting skills, Scorsese wanted and needed a "pure" blonde for the part. He wanted her and got her. And Shepherd needed work. As a curiosity, Shepherd is the only lead performer who's career didn't reach the same level as the others. But I liked her performance in the movie. She is the perfect and at the same time wrong person for Bickle's affection.
"They... cannot... touch... her"
And the last character that I'm going to mention largely is Harvey Keitel's character called Sport. Keitel was considered for the role of Bickle. After losing it to De Niro, he was offered a part as the campaign manager. Keitel didn't want the role, maybe because it was so insignificant, but asked to play the pimp instead. Keitel's performance is almost just as good as De Niro's. De Niro's performance is ultimatelly the best performance I've ever seen on screen but Keitel managed to make a smaller character as Sport a memorable one.
Keitel is an actor of the same level as De Niro. Both of 'em concentrate fully on their characters. He spent almost a month with a real pimp. I've read that Keitel even improvised scenes with the pimp to fully understand what makes them do such work. Keitel had some difficulties to adjust to the scenes he did with Foster but like a real pro, he managed to put "the filth of it all" behind him. And this next quote, even though it is really obnoxious, says everything necessary of Sport...
"Well, take it or leave it. If you want to save yourself some money, don't fuck her. Cause you'll be back here every night for some more. Man, she's twelve and a half years old. You never had no pussy like that. You can do anything you want with her. You can cum on her, fuck her in the mouth, fuck her in the ass, cum on her face, man. She get your cock so hard she'll make it explode. But no rough stuff, all right?"
Even the smaller roles are in my opinion just as important as the leads. Peter Boyle's character Wizard, a philosophical cab driver, someone Bickle could even call a friend. Albert Brooks plays Betsy's co-worker Tom, in his first film role. A real yuppie who has his eyes on Betsy. Victor Argo, the clerk at the store, who has probably one of the most violent scenes in the film. Steven Prince as the gun salesman. All of these contribute perfectly on the making of Taxi Driver into the best film in the history of cinema.
So, you've probably understood already that the acting is superb in 'Taxi Driver'. But what about the editing, cinematography or music?
Bernard Herrmann's jazzy score is minimalistic in its ways but it is in fact one of the most mesmerizing scores I've heard. I don't own that many soundtracks but 'Taxi Driver's' soundtrack is one to own if you appreciate the work of film musicians.
Michael Chapman's cinematography, along with Tom Rolf's and Melvin Shapiro's editing, play an important part in the movie. The opening scene in which a yellow cab drives thru thick smoke and Herrmann's dreamlike score plays on the background... Filmmaking in its most perfect way.
One specific sequence to mention is the bloodbath in the end. The camerawork, the lighting, special effects, the music. I've never seen an intensity of same caliber in any other film. The moment when Bickle puts his hand near his head to demonstrate (or mimic) a gun effect and having an eerie grin on his face... Awesome.
De Niro's charismatic performance as Bickle, a partly sympathetic character who becomes some kind of hero at the end, Scorsese's perfect directing along with other crew members collaboration to the making of the film makes 'Taxi Driver' the best film ever. I remember when I saw 'Taxi Driver' for the first time, I was a 15 year old kid who by chance got a copy of the film. I've never been so stunned of any other film than 'Taxi Driver'. The film got under my skin, provoked me in ways I had never even thought that could be possible. Films like these just improve with every viewing.
'Taxi Driver' is very multileveled (don't know if this is a correct word...) This is just a scratch of what can be said of this film. I'll even say that 'Taxi Driver' is very critical against our society. What could happen when society doesn't do anything to make things better for common people? Surely there are people who are ready to take justice in their own hands, just as Travis Bickle. This film is very thought provoking, a film that really deserves its place among the best films ever made.
Perfect in every way, this is a film that comes highly recommended to any person who appreciate high-class filmmaking with in-depth characters and top-notch writing.
"Listen, you fuckers, you screwheads. Here is a man who would not take it anymore. A man who stood up." agains the scum, the cunts, the dogs, the filth, the shit. Here is someone who stood up."
From the moment that Travis' cab emerges through the steam, one gets a sense that Scorsese is going to take us down a dark road. What he gives the viewer is an in depth character analysis that drives into the mind of a neurotic ex-marine teetering on the edge of delirium.
While writer Paul Schrader helped to bring Travis Bickle into existence, DeNiro and Scorsese really bring him to life. DeNiro, who drove an actual cab for a couple weeks in order to prepare for the role, uses the most subtle of expressions to showcase the many shades of turmoil that Bickle projects. As he walks amid the maelstrom of New York City at night, his demeanor is placid, yet something is clearly boiling beneath the surface. In the hands of many other actors, Travis would have turned out more ostentatiously psychopathic and I find DeNiro creates a malevolence that is even more sinister by making Travis oddly endearing.
On paper Travis is not a simple man. Whether it be in his cab or his rather scanty apartment, he is usually shown in a constant state of isolation. Even Scorsese's direction stresses this isolation as he is usually the lone figure in the frame during a conversation while the other person is usually shot with Travis' shoulder in the foreground. He is intuitive, smart, confident, and believes himself to be a John Wayne figure even though he is more akin to Norman Bates. He is also a walking contradiction. Bickle becomes obsessed with fitness even though he predominately eats junk food and proclaims his distaste for people's licentious activities even though he frequents dirty movies. DeNiro's performance effectively encompasses all the complexities that a character such as Travis has to offer.
As for Scorsese part, he does an excellent job accenting the pieces of the city that a person such as Travis would fixate on. Scorsese's New York is gritty and ominous. As Travis' cab drives around the city, Scorsese shows that there is wanton violence at every turn. Whether this is the New York that Scorsese sees or just Bickle's perception of it, it is not depicted as a place to settle down and start a family. (Unless of course you plan to eventually kill everyone in it) Even when Travis is outside of the cab, he is bathed in the red glow of the neon lights which also brilliantly foreshadows the violence that will ensue later.
Forgive me for my tedious rehashing of all the things that make this film so memorable. I hope that it might have given some insight into the powerful piece of film that Scorsese and DeNiro have created. It is surely one that cannot afford to be missed and belongs in every film lovers collection.