Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel
Tag line: "He's a lonely, forgotten man desperate to prove he's alive"
Trivia: One of the studios who considered producing this film suggested Neil Diamond play the title role.
“Someday a real rain will come to wash all the scum off the streets”. So says Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), the isolated antihero of Martin Scorsese’s gripping 1975 film, Taxi Driver. But, as we quickly learn, Travis isn’t a patient man, and soon tires of waiting for this “divine rain” to arrive. So, he takes matters into his own hands.
A Vietnam veteran living in New York, Travis takes a job as an overnight cab driver. By cruising the mean streets after dark, he encounters all forms of criminals and lowlifes, and learns to hate each and every one of them. One night, he meets a 12-year-old prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster), who works for a pimp known as ‘Sport’ (Harvey Keitel). Before long, Travis has formed a friendship with the young girl, and the more he gets to know her, the madder he gets at the man who's robbing her of her innocence. This, combined with the collapse of his relationship with a pretty political volunteer named Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), causes Travis to unravel, and slowly lose his grip on reality. Soon, Travis will make the decision to confront the criminal element he's grown to despise, and do so in a brutal, merciless fashion.
Taxi Driver was Scorsese's and DeNiro’s second collaboration (following 1972’s Mean Streets), and the first in which DeNiro was the star. For his part, Scorsese does a wonderful job bringing us deep into Travis’ world, taking us everywhere he goes, showing us everything he sees. We’re with Travis on his nightly taxi runs, and listen in on his innermost thoughts, many of which send chills racing up our spine. Scorsese structures Taxi Driver in such a way that we’re in Travis’ company for nearly the entire film, keeping us so in tune with his lead character that, like Travis, we become oblivious to the rest of the world. We are one with his warped reality, and serve as the lone witnesses to his journey into the abyss.
Robert DeNiro is predictably marvelous as Travis, and I especially liked the restrained manner in which he delivers the voice-over narration, where he puts into words the thoughts that are controlling Travis’ mind. As the story progresses, these thoughts devolve from subtle observations (“All of the animals come out at night…sick, venal”) to twisted calls for action (“The idea has been growing in my brain for some time: brute force. All the kings’ men cannot put it back together again”). It’s obvious from the get-go that Travis is a loose cannon, one capable of going off at any given time. His descent into madness was inevitable.
By the conclusion of Taxi Driver, Travis has done something that causes the rest of the world to view him as a hero, a man who saw injustice and decided to do something about it. But we know a little bit more about Travis than they do. We’ve listened to him express his outrage at the state of modern society, and we were there when he issued himself a personal challenge to change the world through any means necessary. We know that Travis, despite his so-called ‘heroic’ deed, is a man whose actions stem more from a blossoming hostility than any true concern for the welfare of mankind. Instead of praise, Travis is a man who should be feared.
And they would fear him,..if only they knew him like we do.