A disturbing and sometimes slick way of looking at a man taken with cleansing the world around him, it’s through his feelings and daily or perhaps nightly actions that we are presented with one of the best and most iconic feature film characters of all time.
The story does take on differing strands of ideas with crime leading the way, as an insomniac taxi driver named Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) soon gains interest in the political world, weapons and vigilantism as he tries to protect a young girl called Iris (Jodie Foster) from the seedy underground of prostitution. Along the ride he tries to woo a campaign worker called Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) which only kicks off the violent burrowings of his mind.
Martin Scorsese directs a very provoking film and he also appears as an odd passenger in Bickle’s cab. Scorsese and De Niro are partners of excellence and the director manages to always capture some new interesting angle on a story and present it in a fascinating dark light. It possesses a gritty streak of unnerving tension and highlights the nightlife of New York City as some pulsating spot needing to be purged. It’s with Scorsese’s eye that I could easily feel a deliberately thin and wavering line between dream and harsh reality. The opening alone manages to demonstrate that sense with the blurred lights of the city leaving trails as if seen in a dream. The fact that Travis Bickle takes on the night shifts to try and battle his sleepless nature only goes further to see this world of trouble as a dreamlike image. Bickle and his mind swell with darker thoughts as he sees more of the terrible people hanging around on his post sundown drives and with the additional negatively concluded relationship between him and Betsy, it’s a given that a switch is going to flick at some point. Scorsese manages to put across that change in persona well and his conviction to show Bickle as obsessive, mad and driven to working out and attempting the challenge of assassination pays off as you honestly buy into De Niro’s performance of this lonely man.
What’s truly amazing about this classic movie is the tipping point of Bickle as a character and the title to put him under. It’s without a doubt that he is an iconic villain for his later crimes but there’s some heart and heroic nature to him also. Though it’s clear also that he cannot be pinned as an anti-hero because there’s too much damage to him and caused by him. It’s a see-sawing character and one that ends with the newspaper cuttings regarding him as the lone taxi hero and saviour of the shootout though a flip point would have seen Bickle forever known as an assassin. It’s in the ending that two thought processes could be travelled upon where the same blurred lights of the city nightlife give it that circular narrative possibly leading to thoughts that he could end up doing a similar thing again and maybe this time he won’t end up being deemed the good guy. Secondly with those streaky neon lights of New York and the desirable happy news reports it could just as easily be a dream, a vision of what Bickle wants to see as his ending instead of the death facing him on the couch. The film really does convey that disturbing note of dread and violence with an even more worrying ease of gentle dreamlike shots, the music involved helps this feeling too.
Bernard Herrmann delivers his last ever score for this movie before dying a couple of months before ‘Taxi Driver’ was released. He greatly encapsulates the terrifying nature of Bickle’s psychi and in general with the cab driving scenes you hear calming jazz tones of dream like paradise which also goes some way to representing both Bickle’s loneliness and the brassy sleaze of city pimps and prostitutes. Then every now and then the score breaks into drum beats with sharp steel like bangs that come across like a ticking time bomb for Travis’ mindset.
The final act with Travis Bickle is obviously one of the main stand out points of this 70’s film and made it one of the most controversial movies of the time. You can tell that the shootout sequence has been played about with as what comes before looks different to the change in saturation of the penultimate scene. Scorsese had to desaturate the colours to get a rating for the film, so the blood isn’t as prominent as it would have been though I like that in a way as it doesn’t make the scene look as over the top as it may have done. Another degree of controversy came with the casting of Foster as child prostitute who was 13 at the time of acting. That is a more adult role and yes it is uncomfortable and probably at the time of release it would have been seen as shocking beyond belief but now you can’t help but admire the tenacity of her performance.
Robert De Niro plays the main role superbly. He gives the complex likeable yet unlikeable character life and lets him come to sparkling life on the screen. It’s a very dramatic film and De Niro of course delivers the intensity needed to portray the damning nature of Bickle’s life. It’s striking just how much you start buying into the character and as he starts spiralling into the maddening determination to get back at Betsy by taking out the presidential candidate he really looks maniacal and startling. Jodie Foster is by no means one note in this movie clearly demonstrating a worrying edge of allure to a broken young girl and you can just gauge the underlying vulnerability of this messed up kid through the way she gives certain looks.
A powerfully uneasy film with shredding musical notes that raise the tension and psychotic tendency of Bickle with alarming effect. It’s obsessive, violent and without a doubt one of the most extraordinary films ever made.