A bronx-swanky masterpiece of sociological civilization analysis, experimental cinematography styles, jazzy soundscape, intellectually-sophisticated cynicistic worldview, & definitive De Niro performance for a legend Scorsese flick. 9.6/10.
Plot Synopsis: Suffering from insomnia, disturbed loner Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster).
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Review: “Listen, you f****, you screwheads: Here’s a man who wouldn’t take it anymore; A man who [finally] stood up”. There was a time before Taxi Driver, and a time after. Scorsese’s brutal, grimy, judiciously-complex psychological tour-de-force truly changed everything as a quantum leap for the artform of cinema opening up the medium to infinitesimal possibilities. It deserves every bit of its modern status as one of the greatest films ever made (and a career-launcher for one of cinema’s greatest auteurs 40+ years later.) A bronx-swanky masterpiece of sociological civilization analysis, experimental cinematography styles, jazzy soundtrack, intellectually-sophisticated cynicistic worldview, & definitive De Niro performance make for a brilliant, career-defining Scorsese film.
The soundscape and visual craftsmanship. What’s most instantly-pertinent about Taxi Driver is its unmistakeable orchestral score. We’re serenaded by silky, smooth-flowing New York-reminiscent jazz & trumpet symphonics from the very first scene, evolving into a sumptuous, rich melting of ear-pleasing, indie & experimental sounds that’s elegance in its purest form. A characteristic thematic sequence works its way to the forefront, being repeated throughout the film as perhaps a comment on the repetitive nature of city life and the rat-race setting the stage for its screenplay’s bold ideas. The auricular majesty of the final act – brimming with rattling tambourines, tightly-wound drumrolls, and hot suspense in cascading keys/harp notes feeling straight out of a Leone spaghetti-western showdown – is one of the most fascinating accompaniments I’ve ever heard in filmmaking. The audio track’s sweet harmonics are juxtaposed by a coarse concrete jungle-backdrop in T.D.’s city-set tale, innovatively cinematographed by Michael Chapman that pushes the boundaries as much as Bernard Hermann’s score with techniques ranging from rapid shot cycling of taxi cab shots to blurring of light-reflected (noir-reminiscent) rain-soaked streets, night diners, adult film theaters, and XXX stripclubs to loads of tracking shots playing right into its titular cabbie’s philosophical/sociological contemplations.
De Niro’s performance. De Niro’s turn as insomniac, visibly-exhausted, work-a-holic, unfiltered marine-vet Travis is quite simply one of the most memorable performances in cinematic history. The New York accent, sly cynicism, iconic mohawk, introspective curiosity, & maladroit moldability of a fresh mindset/view from the outskirts of normal society make for an extremely-intriguing central character the whole film can be built around. RDN’s already-skyrocketing career with an Academy Award to his name for his work in Coppola’s visceral The Godfather (Part II) is one-upped by a career-defining performance as a man broken by society, who can’t find out where he fits in or what his purpose in life is until he gets fed up with the corruption and broken system swirling around him and decides to take action. The rest of the performances are phenomenal as well, including Cybill Shepherd’s luscious blonde heartbreaker Betsy and Jodie Foster’s oppressed, feisty prostitute Iris for a sensational cast of characters in support of its star role take just rife with extremely-complex intellectual/philosophical themes.
The philosophical dissertation. Easily what is Taxi Driver’s biggest achievement and catapult into the pantheon of All-Time greatest films is its wildly-complex, intricate philosophical/psychological/sociological analysis: all through the lens of a taxi driver. Worldviews from cynicism to nihilism to pessimism to pre-determinism are tossed around and juggled masterfully through a jaw-droppingly advanced screenplay that feels more like a PhD-thesis than crime drama. We are taken on a tour through the grimy side of civilization – where sin is a kind word and one man’s deluded vigiliantism-steeped savior-complex/ambitions of cleaning it all up buoy an existential struggle. Fitting in with Travis’ dark, grim outlook on life are screenplay peeks into nearly all major ilks plaguing our society today like rat-infested sewers beneath it: violence, racism, spousal abuse, prostitution, social despondancy, infidelity, greed, sex, lies, toxic macho-isms, political corruption, trafficking, and the dark corners of the human experience we try not to think about, but is crucial to consider when analyzing life and human condition as a whole. While this might seem a harsh outlook on society depending on your glass half-(full/empty) outlook, it is a realism-based look into modern cities’ dark sides only achievable by rough jobs like taxi driver’s settings & clientele far from what most people see – a film-making decision by Scorsese & co. that anchors the film’s big ideas and somber sinfulness in something tangible and palpable.
The only conceivable flaw I can think of is its constant succession of the same orchestral/trumpet theme, over and over. As alluded before, it may be in sly purposeful comment on the mundane repetition of normal life & routines in the rat-race of city life – making sense especially in the context of a mentally-ill, cynicistic taxi cab driver who can’t sleep and has to do menial work for money – but it can still get a bit tedious and vexing over the long haul after hours of listening to it. This is, of course, a tremendously-minor, fine-toothed comb gripe in a masterstroke of cinema.
Overall, Taxi Driver is a masterpiece of elegance and psychological tactility. It launched the Italian-American Scorsese’s career into the stratosphere, eventually securing a place in the Pantheon of All-Time directors with names like Kubrick, Hitchcock, Kurosawa, Tarantino, and Coppola on themes and style that first found their groove here. A bronx-swanky tour-de-force of sociological civilization analysis, experimental cinematography styles, jazzy soundtrack, intellectually-sophisticated cynicistic worldview, & definitive, career-making De Niro performance meld beautifully to innovate the medium for a quantum leap of psychological thrillers whose seismic aftershocks, genre-popularity, and possibility-paving is still shaping film to this day.
Official CLC Score: 9.6/10