Taxi Driver (1976) * Top Pick *

Travis Bickle, thy name is fame
Travis Bickle, thy name is fame

Genre: Crime Drama Thriller

Starring: Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull1900), Jodie Foster (ContactThe Silence of the Lambs)

Directed By: Martin Scorsese (The DepartedGoodfellas)

Overview: Travis Bickle is a Vietnam veteran who drives a cab on the graveyard shift. Everyday he sees New York City's depredation and decides to make a change for himself and a young prostitute.

The tagline says it all: On every street in every city, there's a nobody who dreams of being a somebody.

Feel free to click here to skip the spoiler bit at the beginning.


1 a: a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability
b: an illustrious warrior
c: a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities
d: one that shows great courage
e: an object of extreme admiration and devotion: idol

When Travis Bickle makes his application to be a taxi driver, he's asked about his military service. "Honourable discharge" he answers. Sounds like a great guy right from the start. From then on we are shown the very definition of the post-modern nuance. We have as archetype a Vietnam War veteran, the 70s' classic symbol of a questionable hero. As we follow his attempt at becoming someone beyond his station, he succeeds, but a more convoluted hero there cannot be.

When he guns down a robber at a convenience store (below)  everything about that act is heroic in one light: Travis gives the robber fair warning before firing. He then asks the store owner if he requires any more assistance, and when told no, he leaves without any desire for reward. Yet in another light he's nothing more than a murderer: said warning is nothing more than "hey, dude" and he leaves  before the authorities arrive only because the gun was bought illegally.

Enter Iris the prostitute, someone Travis sees as an innocent that can be saved. And in the final climactic shootout, he does save her, though in doing so he greatly endangers her in the war zone he creates. Aside from that he presents great horrors to her by shooting a pleading man in the head a she begs him not to do it.

From being seconds away from becoming famous for the murder of a presidential candidate, he instead kills a den of pimps and gangsters, receiving praise as a hero and getting his name in the paper, and indeed changing lives for the better in the process.

Writer Paul Shrader certainly knew how to take every situation Bickle faced and warped it to make the character a shining example of a disturbed man with a hero complex.

And a nice stab at media bias too.

Hero Factor: Part I
Hero Factor: Part I 

Sometimes a film is as easy as having a character explore his existence, and the reason Taxi Driver has made it this far in the books of classic Hollywood film history, in my humble opinion, is because it plants us firmly in a zone that's pure art and high drama while still being on the pulse of the contemporary issues that our everyman character and his city was currently facing.  An anthropological study of the now by one of its observers, who at the same time is unwittingly one of it's tragic victims, is what Taxi Driver is really about. A man as tainted as everyone else seeing the rot around him decides to do something about it.

What a better example of life imitating art than John Hinkley Jr.?

What astounded me on this third viewing was the montage work. Whether it be night shots of a 70s NYC or during voiceovers while we saw the garage or Travis alone at home, these shots from the cab and the moments during our disturbed's monologues were always crowned by a 'real' mood. What we saw was gritty but without being overly dark or expository.

Add names with weight like Cybil Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle and a nice little cameo role played by a very young Scorcese and that fleshes it out pretty well indeed.

You know Scorcese's proud of this one.

As a matter of fact, there IS someone else here. See that man there? Sorry to cause you such confusion and strife dear sir, i'll be off and many thanks.
Practicing the intimidation stance in front of the mirror, all while watching your character slip into madness? That's the stuff of genius.

Performance: 10 Cinematography: 8 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 86% (Pull on up)

Taxi Driver is without a doubt Americana Classics material because it embodies the essence of that little burg. One year after this was made Charles Burnett would the bring us something very similar: a gaze into the tribulations of the poor black ghetto of Watts as seen by the victims of its society, doing what they can to get by. Both Taxi Driver and  Burnett's Killer Of Sheep have been inducted into the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

So when I say Taxi Driver is a national treasure, I'm not exagerating. 

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 Good review.  Your mention of this being your third viewing and still being struck by the montage work, got me thinking about how films leave a different impression on you as you experience them at different points in your life. I know for myself that as I get older and gain experience I'll see a movie again that I first saw 15 or more years earlier and suddenly the subtext becomes clear or it means something different than the first time I saw it. I truly believe that like a great book, a great film has to be experienced more than once to really get all you can out of it.

That said, aren't you just dreading the inevitable re-make or re-imagining of this and other classic films they haven't got to yet ( Jaws, 2001, A Clockwork Orange, Smokey and the Bandit, Etc.)

Dreading is an understatement

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