Taxi Driver (1976)

Taxi Driver

  • Taxi Driver is extremely well-made.
  • 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.
  • Final Grade: B

35 thoughts on “Taxi Driver (1976)

  1. I don’t blame you. Either do I.

    I feel much about it how I feel about A Clockwork Orange. Brilliant. And a fine experience to have once, but I needn’t repeat. Ever.

  2. Totally agree, except maybe that the score was a positive thing. By the end of the movie I was thinking using the same exact piece of music over and over and over was extremely tiresome. But yes, even though Travis “saved” Iris, there’s absolutely no reason why he wouldn’t be locked up. You can’t get away with murdering three guys just because they’re not good people.

    • The score was irritating, but that was the point, I think. It was meant to immerse us in Travis’ boredom, his feeling of isolation, his psychosis; the fact that we are irritated by the blasted music helps us feel the same way Travis does about the world in general.

      Travis becoming a hero works thematically, but narratively it is less perfect. I can actually see at least two stories that justify it, though. 1. As the only witness to Travis’ crimes, Iris lies about what happened; 2. Iris tells the truth, but authorities dismiss her account as Stockholm syndrome and opt to believe the more morally acceptable version (she was in mortal danger and Travis saved her); 3. There’s probably others. My point is that Scorcese doesn’t tell any of these stories, which leaves us to wonder. Personally, I think the confusion limits the sequence’s thematic weight.

      • I suppose I see your point about the music, maybe it was supposed to make us feel trapped, helpless and irritated. I was definitely irritated.

        I honestly think it should have ended immediately after the shootout, left Travis’s fate undecided, we can assume Iris gets help without that poorly narrated letter. I really disliked the Cybil Shepard ending.

      • I disliked the Cybil Shepard ending, too. Her appearance helps cement the anti-violence theme (Travis is only visible to this woman he really liked after he kills a bunch of people – what does that say about our society), but it doesn’t work for the character, not the way she is developed.

        And given that Scorcese rushes the ending he gives us, I would have preferred your ending, too. Of course, then the anti-violence theme would be all but undeveloped. Still, the narrative would have been cleaner.

  3. This film is a fantastic piece of work. It’s something that you can admire from afar, and declare it to be brilliant, but it’s not at all a film you want to immerse yourself in, because it’s impossible to immerse yourself in Taxi Driver.

    Much like what you said about Clockwork Orange; a fine experience that you never want to have again. Spot on!

  4. A fair assessment J. You know I’m a big fan of DeNiro but I reckon Taxi Driver is a little overrated. So many things work (as you point out) but it is a bit of a slog and emotionally distant. It’s been a while, though, so I’ll have to revisit it. I might change my mind on that.

    • Thanks. And this movie goes a long way toward making me an equally big De Niro fan. The movie has some flaws, but his performance is astonishing. He won the Oscar for Raging Bull, but I think he’s better here. Travis Bickle is the best I’ve ever seen him.

      • It’s a good argument. I connected more with Raging Bull but there’s no doubt that DeNiro is very intense in Taxi Driver. Most certainly of his very finest and no doubt that it’s his most iconic.

  5. I remember being fascinated by this movie, but I haven’t watched it in a decade or so. I should again. I remember the brilliance, but I can’t recall how well it immersed me in the world. Nice work!

  6. What a brilliant film. This isn’t my favorite Scorsese movie but I think it might be his greatest work. As a character study and as an anti-hero movie there are few films better than it.

  7. I was actually interested in seeing this movie when I was ateen because of comic books. Guy Gardner (One of the Green lanterns) actually took a girl out on a date very similar to what Travis does in this movie and the story interested me.

    I liked this, but didn’t love it.

    I think I gotta re-watch this one soon too 😦

    Great review J (as always)

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  9. Been a while since I saw it but the only thing that really bugged me was that soundtrack. i didn’t even like it at the beginning, let alone after hearing it throughout…

      • First, it’s important to note I don’t hold him in the same lofty esteem as many others do. I think Scorcese an artistic genius and a very good, but not great, storyteller. (Which is to say: most of his movies have flaws in plot, character or theme development, but are near perfect from a filmmaker’s perspective.)

        It is also important to note that I still haven’t seen much of his early work.

        That said, of those I’ve seen, what do I think his finest? From a character development perspective, I’d say The Departed, but I think that one lite on theme. The Wolf of Wall Street is the one I enjoy most, but that lacks a single character for whom we can root and also underdevelops its female characters. So I guess I’d probably say Goodfellas, with Wolf second.

  10. This is probably one of my favourite films of all time; I definitely encourage you to watch it again at some point in the future, because the depth and power of the film wasn’t revealed to me until a second viewing. I will point out that I think the coda can be reasonably interpreted as a dream sequence (I’m not sure if I do or not yet, but it’s a widely-held interpretation).

    • It definitely could be. But even if it is one, it doesn’t really change my opinion of it. Scorcese doesn’t explain it well enough for me to know one way or the other.

      And I might see it a second time. But I doubt it. 🙂

  11. Well written, and not a bad score. I am actually not sure if I watched this or not, but I may have when I was a lot younger. I think De Niro needs Scorcese back, as he keeps appearing in terrible films. Other then American Hustle, where he actually impressed me. He works best in twisted story as an anti-hero or villain. Not comedies…

    • Thanks. I have definitely given much worse grades. 😉

      I would love to see De Niro and Scorcese back together, but I think the actor was pretty awesome in a number of comedic roles (Meet the Parents, Silver Linings, Analyze This, Stardust, even Last Vegas). I think he is very versatile.

      But another Scorcese/De Niro flick would be epic. 😉

  12. Great movie, I am sure all us movie peeps out there can agree on that stance. Deniro’s performance is awesome, memorable, who could forget it? And Scorsese what can we say that already hasn’t been said. But it is interesting to hear this movie critiqued since I have not seen it in so long. I agree about Clockwork too, I just recently saw it again and ummm yeah makes you realize even more that it is hard to watch. Great flick, but it has its issues as well.

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