Director Martin Scorcese demonstrates symbolic mastery, using Travis Bickle’s (Robert De Niro) taxi, television, guns and other symbols to show a man separated from the world. These symbols doubtlessly fuel lengthy academic debates.
The film’s themes are just as well executed. Scorcese and Writer Paul Schrader have much to say about society’s treatment of war veterans, as well as its obsession with violence, but they do not say any of it directly. The subtlety works well.
The score is maddeningly repetitive, and therefore immerses us in Travis’ worldview.
And the performances are stellar. De Niro is award-worthy fantastic.
Harvey Keitel is creepy as a pedophiliac pimp. Cybil Shepherd shines as Betsey, and Jodie Foster deserves all of the praise she received for this role.
Still, Taxi Driver, despite its artistic brilliance, is not perfect. The ending is rushed and doesn’t explain Travis’ status as hero, a flaw all the more apparent because Travis should be a convict.
Betsey’s appearance in Travis’ cab works thematically, but it works less well for the character. Earlier in the movie, Betsey thought Travis thoroughly creepy. While I can theorize reasons she’d now seek out a ride from him, the screenplay should have explained it better.
Slow pacing and monotone voice over help us understand Travis, but they also emotionally distance us from the picture.
Travis’ lack of charisma does the same.
And because we are kept at a distance from the movie, it is not particularly entertaining, no matter its artistic merits.