Taxi Driver is a brilliant film, but not in the same vein as traditional, story-driven genre fare. Taxi Driver is a very dark character study or an “existential picture” as the screenwriter Paul Shrader refers to the film. To grossly simplify it, the film is about a taxi driver and how his isolation, the moral decay of New York and his barely controlled hatred for such scum slowly brings him into a seething rampage of destruction on the city. Infamous for it’s realistic depiction of bloody violence, the film is one that will make people question the very idea of vigilante causes, even if the cause seems justified. Taxi Driver is an uncomfortable but an ever-rewarding experience because of its vigilante and unusual ways he ticks.
The titular cab driver is Travis Bickle, an unbelievably disturbing character but he is given great depth thanks to the performance of Rodert De Niro. He plays the character as an angry and anti-social individual but also weary, modest, and even self-aware at points. From his perspective, which is the only given perspective in the film, New York City needs to be cleansed but is still apparent that he is a complete psychotic. This becomes even stranger when Bickle meets Cybill Shepherd’s character, internally he idolizes her as a guardian angel who could understand his issues; it initially looks like they could work out, then he takes her on a movie date… what happens is so cringe worthy that not even the camera wants to look at him. It is brilliant.
Another highlight of Taxi Driver is Martin Scorsese’s powerful direction. The way Scorsese composes each shot deliberately with a tone of simmering menace which perfectly compliments the unpredictably of Bickle. Whether it be the murky streets of New York, the sleazy neon lights of the porn theaters or a glass of Alka-Seltzer they are filmed with the purpose to link the audience into the mad mind of Bickle. With that plus a Paul Shrader’s bizarre narrative and Thelma Shoonmaker’s always perfect editing technique, the result is a stream of conscious masterpiece.
Taxi Driver is far from a cheery film but it is a brilliant study of both the moral decay of urban areas and vigilantes. Rather than playing a rabid dog, Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle as a contradictory, angry, yet focused and affable that will genuinely question the viewer’s idea of anti-heroes. There are also so many other details like Jodie Foster’s performance, Cybill Shepherd, the racism subtext and the ending that could written about and they would result in so many interpretations, which is what makes the film so great. Taxi Driver is that will leave each viewer with different questions and answers, nobody leaves unscathed but they will watch it again. A film this excellent deserves a multiple looks, regardless of content.