THE STORY – Suffering from insomnia, disturbed loner Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster).
THE CAST – Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle & Cybill Shepherd
THE TEAM – Martin Scorsese (Director) & Paul Schrader (Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 113 Minutes
By Matt Neglia
”Taxi Driver” might just be the best dark character study ever put to celluloid. It’s anchored by a transformative (And deeply disturbing) performance from Robert De Niro and features the legendary director Martin Scorsese at his most young and courageous as a director. The material still manages to be insightful, shocking, upsetting, and relevant even 40 years later. Paul Schrader’s screenplay navigates through a rough and ravaged New York City (Before it was cleaned up and turned into the desirable living community it is today) as much as he takes us deep into taxi driver Travis Bickle’s warped mindset. All these years later, and if you haven’t seen “Taxi Driver,” stop reading right now and spend with God’s loneliest man.
It’s the late 70’s in New York City and Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is working long hours and late nights as a taxi driver. He is an ex-marine who was honorably discharged in Vietnam and is suffering from sleep deprivation and extreme cleanliness. He is searching for a purpose to his own life and can’t seem to find it amidst the dark decaying city where the underbelly of urban crime comes out at night. He eventually sets his eyes on a beautiful blonde political campaign volunteer named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) who is advocating for Senator Charles Palentine (Leonard Harris) to become the nation’s next President. Her co-worker Tom (Albert Brooks) can see right through Travis and knows that something is not quite right about this man. However, Travis will stop at nothing to win over Betsy’s affections. In his comings and goings, he also has a chance encounter with a 12-year-old prostitute named Iris (A young Jodie Foster) and her “pimp” Sport (Harvey Keitel). All of these encounters and relationships which Travis seeks to form, will ultimately shape his life and lead him to a decision which will have consequences not just for himself, but also for those around him.
With this film, Robert De Niro proved to the world why he is considered one of the greatest actors of all time (Which is sad considering how far he has fallen from that status today). On the page, Travis Bickle is written to be paranoid, racist, socially awkward and a true psychopath (The inability to be able to relate to others around him). In De Niro’s hands, he takes all of these qualities and uses awkward speech patterns, unnerving timed responses, and off-kilter facial expressions to keep the audience on edge during every scene he is in. He is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode and the audience has no choice but to sit back and wait for the predicted boom to occur. As a taxi driver, he has the ability to go anywhere he wants within New York City, but Travis Bickle the man is going nowhere in life. Couple that along with a dish of what many might consider PTSD from his time in the war and you have all the makings of a confused sense of purpose which eventually manifests itself into vigilantism and violence.
De Niro is scarily good here, but it’s the sure-handed direction of Martin Scorsese that adds even more thematic depth to the proceedings. He utilizes the camera to tell the story artfully through its placement, movement, and choice of shots. Take for example one of the film’s opening moments where we see an extreme close-up of Travis Bickle’s eyes scouring the streets of New York City. It’s telling us that we are about to see the world through this man’s eyes and what does he see? Outside of his taxi, the world is blurry and out of focus. His disdain for the city’s trash (Literally and figuratively) is shot in a guerrilla style from the point of view of the taxi cab to showcase the different types of people who used to populate the streets of New York City on a regular basis. It’s not only a reflection of that period’s society but also how that point of view can push a man past his breaking point where he feels he needs to do something (Good or bad) in order to simply matter in the world. Even, Bernard Herman’s score captures this feeling wonderfully as it reflects Travis’s shifting mindset from menacing and ominous sounds to a soft soothing lounge vibe-like feeling of tranquility. You simply never know what you’re going to get in “Taxi Driver” and that’s exactly how Martin Scorsese wants you to feel.
The ending to “Taxi Driver” is meant to be ambiguous as it allows for different interpretations and various opinions of discussion on the film’s themes and the Travis Bickle character. This has created an enduring legacy for the film, which 40 years later still manages to amaze audiences as much as it did in 1976. Robert De Niro gives a layered and deeply unsettling performance as the taxi driver who has lost his way in a post-Vietnam War society, where he feels he is meant for something greater than taking cab fare from his perceived scum of the world. Martin Scorsese takes Paul Schrader’s dense screenplay and transforms it into an artfully made motion picture that still manages to be culturally important to this day. It is in Travis’s suffering that we must be on the look out for others around us who are going through the same turmoil that he is. And for the sake, of their sanity and the safety of others around us, we must act before they do.
THE FINAL SCORE