Taxi Driver


Watching (and reviewing) a movie like Taxi Driver now is a bit of an ominous task. It’s a movie almost universally loved that has received acclaim as one of the cinematic legends. Making the issue even more intimidating is the fact that I wasn’t too fond of it.



Insomniac Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes on a nighttime shift as a taxi driver in New York City. He wants the job so badly that he relents to working the slums and red-light districts, introducing him to the scum of society, the lowest of lowlifes. As his urge for violence increases, he happens upon a twelve-year-old prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), and makes it his mission to help her get home.

From the get-go, Travis is mentally unstable. He does not portray any signs of violent urges or anything of the sociopathic nature, but something is not right and he needs help. Yet, no one notices and he goes on with his life as normal, even getting a date with Cybill Shepherd. Travis is detached from society and has certain expectations that one would consider abnormal, such as believing a first date could include seeing a pornographic film in public.

taxi driver 1

As the film goes, so does Travis’ grasp on reality. De Niro does an excellent job portraying Bickle’s slow descent into insanity. For the modern generation, De Niro in Taxi Driver is eerily similar to Ryan Gosling in Drive. Even their mannerisms are similar. Take Mark Strong’s looks, add Ryan Gosling’s style, and go back to 1976; that’s what De Niro pulls off.

Anyway, by now you’re wondering what turned me off to this film; I’ll stop stalling. I had two main faults with Taxi Driver: one surface level and one inherent. First, the soundtrack removed me from the film on multiple occasions. Since the beginning is tediously slow, Scorsese tries to bring in some ambient music to set the tone. However, the incessant, dissonant jazz music overpowers everything on screen and completely destroys the film for me. Shockingly (to me at least), Bernard Herrmann received a Best Music, Original Score Academy Award nomination for this. To me, the score should add to the film, not become the focal point.

The second personal gripe was the second half of the movie. Once Shepherd’s Betsy spurns Bickle’s advances, he begins to focus on his attempts to rid the city of its trash, namely Iris’ pimp played by Harvey Keitel. Scorsese makes the decision to rely on De Niro to show Bickle’s insanity, rather than extracting his descent through dialog. A valiant decision no doubt, but one that becomes dubious when Bickle’s motivations and thoughts become muddled and incomprehensible.

taxi driver 2

His detachment from the world around him is evident, but the driving force behind this mental isolation is never explained fully. Maybe it’s a character study into how one recedes into the recesses of the insane mind. For me, this confusion was made exponentially worse by the ending, which wrapped his insanity up in a tidy bow and completely changed the complexion of the film. We move from a man on the brink of self destruction, to said self destruction, and back to the introverted man except without the violent urges? It’s all a little too quick and convenient for me with not enough support from the first half’s events.

For Taxi Driver, more than any other movie, I ask you, my loyal readers, to explain the reason for the endless adoration. I can somewhat recognize the brilliance simply from the performances, especially De Niro. Maybe I didn’t pick up on the core of the film. So please help because I would not recommend Taxi Driver, to be quite frank.

    • movie snob
    • July 3rd, 2013

    I did not understand the fascination with this film when it first came out and still do not enjoy it. However, De Niro does what may be impossible — convey advancing insanity through emoting and expression rather than dialogue — as insanity, I would assume, does not develop with a parallel explanation. The movie also addressed topics that were somewhat taboo at the time — the impact of the Viet Nam war (somewhat unstated but implied) and juvenile prostitution, among other things. I think it’s claim for fame is that it was different at the time — and as you point out, has been copied in part since.

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