IMDB 250: #78 – Taxi Driver (1976)

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** In the “IMDB 250” series I attempt to deepen my understanding of film by viewing for the first time and discussing movies included on the IMDB 250. Though there are other lists, IMDB represents a good balance between mainstream favorites and indie/foreign classics. These are not reviews of the films, more just my first impressions and further discussions of the films**

Film: Taxi Driver

Director: Martin Scorsese

Screenplay:Paul Schrader

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd 

Year of Release: 1976


I’m not going to even try to “review” Taxi Driver. To do so would to expose myself for the amatuer that I am. When watching classic movies like this it becomes a little intimidating to try and enter the conversation so late. Even when you see a current movie months after is released, you have to do your homework before you join in on the discussion.

As it is with Taxi Driver, the two people I’ve gotten to “converse” with are Rober Ebert and Quentin Tarantino. Those two know a thing or two about movies, so I can join with them in saying this film is a masterpiece and a showcase of the powerhouse director Martin Scorsese is. I’m sure there are many levels to the film that I’ve missed but there are still many things that can be picked up on a first viewing that make it wonderful.

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Robert De Niro is amazing, I love all the nuance in his performance. He plays a handful of characters within the man that is Travis Bickle. He plays a lovable dope when he is around nicer folks or people he is trying to impress. He plays a edgier veteran/semi-racist when he is around his fellow taxi-drivers. He goes full-on crazy vigilante when he finally snaps and the film’s famous violence starts.  That might sound like a criticism but it’s not. It isn’t that De Niro couldn’t decide a way to play the character and he flip flops throughout the film. On the contrary, the character of Travis Bickle is so well written and so complex that all these different characterizations make sense within his story arc.

It usually takes 10-15 minutes to really acclimate yourself with the film you are watching. This is especially true of older cinema, as it plays differently to my modern view of movies. Because it was Scorsese I was thinking this was going to be a crime movie. Maybe it was just going to be about the career of driving a taxi? After that initial 10-20 minutes I was able to lock in and see Taxi Driver for the beauty that it is, a multi-layered character study showing how some people deal with rejection/loneliness.

Again, the movie was released in 1976, so I’m not gonna be adding anything new to the conversation. I will say that I loved the music and the way it set the tone. I absolutely LOVED De Niro’s performance and its driving me to want to see everything Scorsese/De Niro have done together.

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Lastly, I was surprised at just how violent the film was. The film slowly builds up to its violent conclusion. It honestly felt like an old western film. There is a mysterious protagonist, there is the love interest he is pursuing, there are good guys and bad guys striving towards different goals. The film has great hints and foreshadowing that tells the audience that something isn’t quite right with Travis. There is also a slow build up of him gathering his weapons and assessing the threat. All of this pays off big when the violence starts. And when I say starts, I mean it explodes. If you’ve seen the film then you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen it then let me warn you the finale of the movie is not for the faint of heart.

Part of the beauty of Taxi Driver is that its strong violence plays a part in the story. It is a total payoff to everything the film has been building up to. It’s so satisfying because it is the logical conclusion of Bickle’s story. What happens when this lonely veteran with insomnia has a goal, whether justifiable or not?

Goodfellas just might be one of my favorite movies of all time. Taxi Driver is a great introduction to Scorsese’s more classic work. Between those two films and his modern work, my desire to view his full filmography has never been so strong.

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