RELEASED: February 8th 1976
DISTRIBUTED BY: Columbia Pictures
DIRECTED BY: Martin Scorsese
WRITTEN BY: Paul Schrader
PRODUCED BY: Julia Phillips & Michael Phillips
MUSIC BY: Bernard Herrmann
STARRING: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle & Cybill Shepherd
I had initially planned to work my way through the Batman films ahead of Joker, but obviously, I haven’t done that. Instead, before the Clown Prince of Crime hits cinemas in his first standalone, I’ve opted to take a look at one of the film’s that inspired the new movie…
Taxi Driver is not particularly fun, or exciting. In fact, at many points, it’s quite uncomfortable. And yet, the film is utterly fascinating.
The movie follows Robert DeNiro’s Travis Bickle, an insomniac Vietnam veteran who takes a job as a taxi driver on the eve of a presidential election campaign. Disgusted by all the sights and sounds he witnesses around him and deprived of sleep and familial comforts, Bickle’s mind slowly descends into madness as he decides to make a violent statement that will define his life.
The first third of the film makes this movie, clocking in at 113 minutes, feel a lot longer than it is. Through the way the movie is cut together, Scorsese really hammers down the monotony of Bickle’s life, in a way that seems both dull and yet, conversely, intriguing. Bernard Herrmann’s score is overly repetitive, and the hum-drum nature of what you’re seeing before you isn’t especially interesting, but the way it’s presented makes it feel familiar. The tedious nature of Bickle’s reality is relatable to those who are familiar with trivial jobs.
This theme of tones operating adversly to what a viewer would usually like to see continues throughout the film. Rather than starting off tedious and becoming exciting or enjoyable, the film instead switches gears to become awkward and towards the end of the film, very uncomfortable. Imagery like pornography, child prostitution, racism and violence are flaunted often, and our central character Bickle doesn’t always have the responses to these things that we’d hope he would.
He isn’t a particularly pleasant character. He can be amusing, and he’s portrayed brilliantly by Robert DeNiro, who seems to effortlessly display Bickle’s growing mania. He brings out any parts of this violent personality that we may be able to relate to and offers them out as something we can latch on to. But it’s rare that the character does things that we might appreciate or respect. He’s not a hero – just a broken man on the edge. And watching his decline is in no way satisfying.
And yet, it remains captivating. All these things that you’re watching seem purposely unpleasant. They’re not meant to be enjoyed. They’re meant to be thought-provoking, and that they are.
On top of all of that, the film is unpredictable. It doesn’t hit all the beats you expect it to, instead, veering off course dramatically on several occasions. It keeps things interesting; thus keeping you invested, even though what’s going on isn’t that enjoyable. And just when you think the film has said all it has to say, it delivers yet another fascinating twist in the narrative that can reframe the film in an instant. Taxi Driver proves that if a film is made well enough and remains devoted to its message, no matter how grim, it can trump a movie that delivers on what audiences want and expect.
All-in-all, I give it:
Also, throughout this film, I couldn’t help but think Brie Larson looks the spitting image of Bickle’s love interest, as played by Cybill Shepherd. It’s uncanny: