It’s funny how the high brow films of 1976 are now mainstream treasures. Taxi Driver is definitely high-brow. It’s also a product of its time. Having a film noir feel, it could be taken as somewhat irrelevant to today’s society. Not that Taxi Driver isn’t relatable to those who face or know someone facing similar issues today–it’s just dated.
The lead character, Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), is strange in a way that we don’t view “strange” in movies these days. He’s not quirky. His idiosyncrasies aren’t humorous–they’re scary. The way he’s depicted is that of the antiquated definition of strange–psychopathic. His good heart shows through just enough that we intermittently like him. But his actions are too erratic for us to enjoy his company.
Perhaps he’s an antihero. Or just a crazy person. After being honorably discharged from the Marines during the Vietnam War, Travis takes a job as a taxi driver in New York City during the midnight hours. While we witness his seedy experiences, we also are privy to the goings on inside his mind since we get voiceovers of his nightly journal entries.
The deep dark underbelly of New York City is a thing that would be intriguing in 1976, since the city was actually slimy back then. It has since cleaned up significantly over the years and this “inside look” of a cabbie at night no longer constitutes as an interesting setting for a character study.
After a short relationship with a love interest, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), goes awry due to him taking her to an X-Rated film on their second date, he snaps–desiring to take out his anger on the world in violent ways.
He eventually befriends a teenage hooker, Iris (Jodie Foster), and takes on a sort of fatherly figure for her, becoming very protective.
As much as it keeps the story rolling with a tight narrative, Taxi Driver could use a couple of trimmings. The film almost does itself a disservice by not keeping the point of view on Travis for one-hundred percent of the film. A couple times it goes to Betsy talking to a coworker, or to Iris having a talk with her pimp, named Sport (Harvey Keitel). Travis is the one journaling the whole story, isn’t he? These side moments not only derail the character study we’ve embarked upon, but would serve an even greater purpose if reworked a little bit to fit inside Travis’ scope. As of now, they have none, except to help us lose perspective.
Taxi Driver is well acted and has a decent script, but it’s not a movie most people would find themselves wanting to watch more than once. Director Martin Scorsese takes a bunch of different story lines and weaves them together to make his point. This film is a character study in its purest form, and doesn’t really strive for much else. But even within its own confines it’s far from perfect.