Are You Talkin' to the Taxi Driver
It's March 28th 1977 and Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" is nominated for 4 Oscars, but somehow this magnificent movie left empty handed beaten to the Best Picture Award by "Rocky". It's a moment in history which many fans of not just "Taxi Driver" but movies in general have questioned, how could "Taxi Driver" a gritty thriller be beaten by the semi gritty yet inspirational "Rocky". I don't know, but I do know that "Taxi Driver" is an amazing movie, even now nearly a quarter of century after it was released with a performance from Robert de Niro which cemented his position as one of the best actors of his generation.
Having returned from Vietnam, ex-Marine Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro - Stardust) is plagued by insomnia so much so that he seeks work as a night time cabbie to fill those long hours, and when not working finds himself drawn to watching porn movies at the adult cinemas in New York, a city which he thinks is a cesspool. A loner by nature Travis has strong views on New York but seems to soften when he dates Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) a worker on the presidential nomination campaign of Senator Charles Palatine (Leonard Harris). But when the socially inept Travis ends up ruining their friendship by taking her to an adult cinema he starts to decline into a state of derangement believing it's his job to do something about the cesspool of a city starting with a guy called Matthew (Harvey Keitel - National Treasure: Book of Secrets) who pimps Iris (Jodie Foster - The Brave One) a twelve year old who he hires out as a hooker.
One of the first things to really hit you about "Taxi Driver" is that it is bleak and gritty. Director Martin Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader paint a picture of New York as a filthy place both physically and morally, which is a huge contrast to the pleasant New York which other directors were delivering around the same time. The grittiness makes it a dark movie, bordering on the unpleasant even before you get into the main storyline of Travis Bickle the loner who borders on being psychotic. But it's marvellously done and a little unsettling because whilst you know that side of life exists watching it brought to life on the big screen is unnerving as if you are admitting to a dirty secret swept under the rug.
But having painted this picture of New York as an almost modern Sodom and Gomorrah we then have Travis Bickle, the sort of socially inept loner who we watch edge ever closer to being a gun totting maniac as the city repulses him. It's a clever character because from the first time we meet Travis we are aware that there is something not 100% about him and that's long before he takes Betsy for a date to watch a porn movie or he tries to befriend Iris the 12 years old hooker, but you sort of side with him. Even when he starts to arm himself with an array of guns and in the now iconic scene talks to himself in the mirror you are left sort of on his side, because whilst bordering on being a psycho it's because of the disgusting city he sees around him which pushes him closer to the edge.
Whilst Martin Scorsese and Paul Schrader create this bleak New York its Robert De Niro's sublime performance as Travis Bickle which not only causes you to side with him but has also turned Bickle into an iconic character. You almost sympathise with Bickle, the insomnia which forces to seek distraction through late night work, his accidental social unawareness when it comes to dating women or how he decides to protect Iris. But at the same time you sort of question whether Bickle is slightly deranged because he acts so coolly almost calculated in everything he does and is nothing more than someone pissed off with what he sees around him. Which ever De Niro has created one of the most stunning characters in cinema's history.
Aside from Robert De Niro "Taxi Driver" also has strong performances from Harvey Keitel as the seedy pimp Matthew Higgins and Jodie Foster as chid hooker Iris. Even Cybil Shepherd puts in a startling good performance as Betsy, Travis's love interest.
And to top this all off Scorsese plays with your perception as the whole of "Taxi Driver" leads you to think one thing as Travis Bickle becomes this seemingly mad gun totting cabbie but all is not what it seems. The final few scenes of the movie have to be seen as to explain them would basically spoil the movie.
What this all boils down to is that "Taxi Driver" is one of just a few truly awesome movies. From the bleak storyline by Paul Schrader, the direction of Martin Scorsese and the sublime performance from Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle it all works. It paints a bleak picture of New York as it takes us into the slightly strange life of Travis and doesn't let go until the credits have rolled. Why didn't it win the Best Picture Oscar back in 1977, probably because it's seriously bleak but that doesn't stop it from being a stunning movie.