This is Scorsese at his finest, and is in my opinion probably the greatest American film to come out of the 1970s.
Dir. Martin Scorsese
1976 | USA | Crime/Drama | 114 mins | 1.85:1 | English
M18 (passed clean) for strong graphic violence, coarse language and some sexual references
Cast: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Albert Brooks
Plot: A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.
Awards: Won Palme d’Or (Cannes). Nom. for 4 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Leading Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Original Score.
Source: Sony Pictures
Subject Matter: Mature
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
Viewed: National Museum of Singapore – 4K restored version
First Published: 28 Nov 2013
Martin Scorsese has made some outstanding movies over four decades, but Taxi Driver remains to be his masterpiece, in the league of Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990), and in my opinion the finest American film to emerge from the 1970s, alongside Polanski’s Chinatown (1974), the two ‘Godfather’ films notwithstanding. It is also my favourite Scorsese film for some time now.
Shot in the heart of a New York in perpetual social decay, Taxi Driver is uncompromising in its depiction of all that is ugly in the bustling city. Portraits of urban malaise don’t come any bleaker than this haunting mood piece that also functions as a potent character study.
Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam War veteran, is the character in question in Scorsese’s controversial film about one man’s descent into the depths of violence.
De Niro’s extraordinary performance is complemented by superb supporting work, in particular from Harvey Keitel and Jodie Foster, who made her breakthrough in a feature film here at the age of 16.
De Niro inhabits Travis in ways that make the character a complex one, whose conflicting motivations and desires are articulated with clarity by Paul Schrader’s introspective screenplay. Through Travis’ narration, Taxi Driver not only captures what he thinks about the appalling state of society, but also what he feels he must do.
“Thank God for the rain to wash the trash off the sidewalk.”
The ingenuity of Scorsese’s film lies in the transformation of Travis’ motivation to kill, with violence the only constant, and perhaps in a nihilistic way, the only guarantor of freedom. But at what personal cost? And for whose freedom?
Taxi Driver‘s thematic treatment of alienation and loneliness not as a personal disease, but as a consequence of a society whose values have gone to waste is at once an indirect critique of America’s involvement in the unpopular war, and also of her capitalistic ideals.
Once again, violence, both the physical and social, is also cause and effect. Scorsese’s approach to filming violence is similarly brutal, the essence of which is captured in the film’s infamously devastating and hard-hitting climax.
Composer Bernard Hermann’s haunting, jazzy (and at times sexy) score accentuates the visuals perfectly. It is one of his last film scores before his untimely passing weeks before the movie’s official release. In my opinion, it is also the best score of his entire illustrious career that included working with the likes of Alfred Hitchcock and Orson Welles.
Almost forty years have passed, but Taxi Driver continues to age well, including Michael Chapman’s mesmerizing cinematography. This is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, and is firmly etched in my list of top ten favourite films of all-time.