A former insomniac marine who has returned from the Vietnam War named Travis Brickle (Robert de Niro) works as a night taxi driver in New York City. Travis, a lonely man, misfit in his professional and personal environment, falls in love with Betsy (played by Cybill Shepherd), an attractive woman who helps in the electoral campaign of a candidate for governor. But what really haunts Travis is seeing how violence and desolation dominate the city. And one day, he decides to take action himself.
Touring the New York nights, Travis encounters a city full of drug dealers, thieves, whores, drug addicts, gang members, and the most diverse nightlife. His famous phrase represents the summary of his particular ideology: “I wish a rain would fall on this city and clean all this scum.” In his diary, this disturbed driver narrates his experiences and obsessions using a voice-over, a very successful device in the film’s structure. And it is that in his painful existence, Travis chooses to rear up against everything that surrounds him, taking him to an extreme situation.
He fantasizes about saving a child prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), whom he often encountered in nightshifts. His disgust for the whole city unfolds in her. Trying to find help to escape his madness, he seeks advice from Wizard, “The Witcher” (Peter Boyle), a veteran taxi driver who acts as an oracle for all colleagues by profession. But Travis does not find any helpful advice (everything will be fixed, have fun, etc.) so, he decides to go for the extreme.
A smuggler, comical in his disgust, supplies Travis with a whole armory of firearms, with which he starts to train to kill. Speaking to the mirror while drawing his gun, Travis creates one of the most famous images in the history of cinema: “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Which went on to become one of cinema’s most popular lines; having originated from an improvisation by Robert De Niro on the sets.
“Taxi Driver” marks the first collaboration between Martin Scorsese and screenwriter/director Paul Schrader, a partnership that would extend to several other films. An Excellent script by Schrader shapes up Travis’s point of view so that the viewer sees a dark, corrupted New York. Full with people of sinful living. So much so that it even seems justifiable “the mission” that Travis carries out, his particular tit for tat seems logical to us.
The movie showcases pessimism on all four sides. Bewilderment and helplessness are Travis’s other feelings, in our opinion. It is a metaphor for the United States, a country that had just lost the infamous Vietnam War and was shaken by the “Watergate” scandal. Or like that scene in which he tests different pistols, a symbol of the attraction for many Americans’ firearms. Truly a perfect written screenplay which comes to life by the brilliant direction by Scorcese.
Characters and actors
To get into the mind of the character he was playing; Robert De Niro worked as a real taxi driver for three weeks in New York to prepare for his role. He also researched psychological illnesses to grasp the madness of Travis. Jodie Foster was twelve years old when the movie was shot. So her older sister played as a double for her naked scenes.
One of Travis’s famous scenes speaking to himself in the mirror as he voiced those famous words, “You talkin to me?” was a spontaneous addition from Robert De Niro which he said was inspired by Bruce Springsteen. The level of dedication on De Niro’s behalf made for arguably his best cinematic performance that was rewarded with various accolades that was befitting of his performance.
12-year-old Jodie Foster gives the signals that she would become be a great actor with her sincere acting from the heart. Harvey Keitel as the pimp Sport gives the tension to the movie in an exciting way. Cybill Shepherd as Betsy is also pretty convincing in her role.
Music and cinematography
Scorsese proved why he was one of the best directors of all time; by a vivaciously dark portrayal of the New York city nightlife. Scorcese and Chapman used many techniques such as zooms, slowed down images, perspective distortions, lightning changes, close-ups, chopped frames… The excellent camera work brings strength and pulse to the cinematography and the narrative of the movie; instantly grabbing the attention of the viewers as soon as the title appeared. This led Scorcese to get an Oscar nomination for best film as well.
The music, by Bernard Herrmann (“Citizen Kane,” “The Birds,” “Psychosis,” “Vertigo”), is powerful, pleasantly rhythmic, and enveloping. It was the author’s last work, who died weeks before the premiere. The score consists of 16 songs which brilliantly facilitated the overall theme of the movie: that of a bleak and damped city. Herrmann rightfully received an Oscar nom for best soundtrack for his stellar work in the movie.
Taxi Driver is a phenomenal slow-paced drama with a growing tempo to the climax. We recommend this cult movie to every cinema-lover, especially to watchers who enjoy a good drama with extraordinary acting and magnificent directing. The grueling and bloody depiction of Travis Brickle may take a dark turn for some of you watching; but this demonstration of raw human emotion and brilliant direction is why it is still renowned nearly 45 years after release. Check out Taxi Driver on Netflix U.S.