Taxi Driver is the second collaborative effort of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, following Mean Streets, a film which I didn’t feel was my cup of tea. This time, De Niro is the lead actor, and Harvey Keitel is relegated to a less significant, though still quite important role. As one of the films that pops up on many ‘Top 100’ lists, I was very eager to check this movie out. My patience with Mean Streets was rewarded.
The first thing that sets this movie apart from Mean Streets is its simplicity. Rather than focusing on several characters, we are just following one this time. De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a mentally unstable Vietnam War veteran who, upon returning to New York, decides to become a taxi driver. His perception of NYC is a negative one; many times he talks about wanting to rid the city of ‘trash’ and ‘scum’. His hatred and xenophobia cause him to lash out on occasion.
A particularly brilliant aspect of this film is the tension that slowly builds up in Travis throughout the film. He’s like a spring with larger and larger weights placed on top of him, eventually erupting near the close of the film. Near the beginning however, he does his best to stay out of trouble, and even tries courting the lovely Betsy, played by Cybill Shepherd. After this endeavour fails, he begins to become more and more angry at society in a phenomenal display by De Niro.
Other parts of this movie are simply badass. In particular, there’s a scene where Travis buys himself four pistols, followed by a montage of himself attaching the weapons in various places underneath his clothing. This naturally makes the tension even greater: who is he going to kill?
While this movie doesn’t have a very conclusive finish – “Why should it?” you may ask – it is worthwhile just for De Niro’s acting alone. At any time he could lash out, and yet more than often he does not. His interactions with Jodie Foster, playing an underage prostitute, shows that he feels some element of care for her, but whether he has ulterior motives is unclear.
Taxi Driver has convinced me that the Scorsese/De Niro partnership is indeed a well-founded one, and is sure to guarantee more great films. I feel like there could have been a bit more action in this film, but this is a very minor quibble. Unfortunately, next up in the chronology is New York, New York a two-and-a-half hour musical which was a box office flop. I am as yet unsure of whether to skip it or not.