1976 film Taxi Driver

Classic film review – Martin Scorsese’s controversial 1976 film, Taxi Driver

Before the collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, there was Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Amongst critics Taxi Driver has been described as the director’s best work to date; an American perspective of urban degradation and isolation.

Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a loner on the mean streets of New York City, slipping slowly into an isolated and disturbed state. He takes a job as a yellow cab driver on the night shift to cope with his insomnia but grows increasingly disgusted by the low-lifes that hang out at night. Though he tries desperately, he can’t seem to make up for this mistake and continues on with his self-destructive behaviour.

Taxi Driver is about loneliness

The overwhelming theme running concurrent throughout the film is loneliness. It’s not about mindless violence or sexual exploitation but rather a look into the world of someone who is forced into a seedy world because of his state of mind. Bickle is a deeply disturbed individual, whose obsessions lead him to do the unconventional. His thoughts manifest themselves to the point of pushing him over the edge and he puts those thoughts into action.

Looking back now it seems there is no one who would have been better enabled to capture Bickle’s unstable persona than Robert De Niro. Made famous by the “You talkin’ to me?” line, Bickle is someone who can’t put the Vietnam war out of his mind. He may be back in the USA but the war has broken his spirit and turned him into a violent and unpredictable individual.

Robert De Niro Gives a Career Defining Performance

It’s the lonely life he leads that causes him to turn into him and let his disturbing thoughts take over. De Niro gives a lesson in less is more, performing with a minimalist approach. It’s a defining moment in his career and has to be seen to fully appreciate how he has grown as an actor.

Jodie Foster is a revelation as the child prostitute who catches Bickle’s attention, leading him to believe he can save her from her situation. Despite her age (Foster was 12 when she played this role) Foster is great as Iris. She has an air of maturity about her and yet easily shows her childish side by smothering sugar over a piece of toast.

Martin Scorsese’s Directing is Superb

As is the case with all of his film, Scorsese doesn’t just let the actors carry the story. It’s the camerawork he shoots and the way he directs the performers that makes this a superbly produced film.

Focusing less on violence and more on the psychologically disturbed nature of Bickle, having De Niro ad-lib a scene in-front of a mirror is one the highlights of the film and shows the strong relationship between actor and director. Similarly, Scorsese’s willingness to let the camera drift from the main character in some scenes shows how in-tune he is with his audience.

To watch (or rewatch) the classic, it is available for rent or purchase on most services such as iTuens and Amazon.  For those who prefer streaming services, it is available via Hulu but you’d need a VPN if you live outside the US.