Yep, that's right, I think this is Martin Scorcese's best movie. Even better than Goodfellas, Casino, or Raging Bull (all fantastic movies, mind you).
I first came across Taxi Driver back in December of 2006 when it was on AMC, and while I only caught about the last 60% of the movie, I was captivated by the gritty cinematography and central character, Travis Bickle. It wasn't long before I requested it as a Christmas gift, and this is one Christmas gift that hasn't been returned or will ever be returned.
The story for Taxi Driver is centered around Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), a lonely and socially-isolated man honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, who takes a job as a taxi driver because of his chronic insomnia (his motto is “If I can't sleep, I might as well get paid for it.”). As time progresses, Travis becomes increasingly disgusted with the “scum” infesting the streets of New York City, and hopes to “make a difference” one day. In his life, he hopes to bond with a woman named Betsy (Cybill Shephard), whom he considers “an angel in a city of filth,” and later gets involved with a young prostitute named Iris (played by a then 12 year-old Jody Foster) and her slimy pimp, Matt (Harvey Keitel).
Taxi Driver only has one highly-developed character, and that's Travis. I don't really see this as a problem since like the Michael Caine masterpiece Get Carter (1971), Taxi Driver is really all about Travis. Travis isn't a really a guy to look up to (he's a sociopath), but at the same time, his darker qualities aren't at all forced. Probably because of the Vietnam War, Travis is socially-detached from everyone else, and it really shows when he tries to establish a romantic relationship with Betsy. His relationship ends pretty swiftly when he takes her to a porn theater, thinking that when she said “go to the movies,” that she'd want to see those types of films (Travis frequently goes to these theaters, and isn't too familiar with “regular” movies). Because NYC is infamous for crime (especially during the time it was set and filmed, which was 1976), Travis's disgust with the slimy people walking the streets is totally understandable. Travis's character is also very creative, because when he plans out his “finest hour” near the end of the movie, you see him take apart the railings from a shelf and lamp, to create a sliding mechanism on his right arm that pops out a gun from under his sleeve.
The supporting cast is in top form as well. Shepard does a great job as Betsy, and despite Travis's eventual disillusionment with her and his conclusion of her being “just like all the others,” we can't really look down upon her for leaving him. Foster did a great job with her role as Iris, as she really wants out of her deplorable life, but is also afraid to leave, and shows this by pretending to like the life she has. Keitel is excellent as Matt since he's a slimy pimp, but his character doesn't seem forced at all. While his appearance was small, Peter Boyle was great as “the Wizard,” a seasoned cabbie whom the other cabbies Travis hangs around with seek knowledge and interesting stories about the business.
New York City circa the 1970's was the perfect setting for this movie, since as stated before, the 70's was a decade of crime and NYC is known for lots of crime. The cinematography was top-notch as well, as it captured all the filthiest corners of the city, helping to flesh out Travis's resentment of the “filth” infesting the city. Also, with this being a movie made 35 years ago, the film's age shows in the picture quality, giving it a naturally-grainy look to it.
Bernard Herrmann made a fantastic soundtrack for this movie. The main theme is loaded with dread, and perfectly matches the tone of the movie. The other for the movie also breath life into it, almost making a snapshot of what NYC was like in the 70's.
This isn't a movie for the kids because it rightly deserves its R-rating. Towards the end, there's a good deal of brutal violence and even before that, there's a good deal of salty language (some of it is strongly sexual) and when Travis goes to the porn theaters in two scenes, there's footage of the erotic movies he's watching (one of them being the Swedish sexual film, Language of Love). Not to spoil any parts of the film containing the brutal violence, there's one scene where a man gets his hand blown off with a .44 magnum, and it's not pretty.
For once, I agree with most critics with their assertion on a “classic” movie. Taxi Driver is truly a masterpiece in the psychological-thriller genre, and I think it's Scorcese's crowning jewel. If you want a classic film with an excellent portrayal of a sociopath in a city of slime on the verge of madness, then this movie is a must-watch.
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