You may remember that last month I teased the start of a new feature: Retro Reviews. While it does exactly what it says on the tin, here’s a quick reminder as what my rules are.
- Should be a first time viewing.
- More than 5 years since original release
- Must watch in full
The honour of my first retro review goes to Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, first released in 1976, starring, Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Kietel and Cybill Shepherd.
Oscars: Nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Music.
Taxi Driver tells the story of Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a somewhat mentally unstable Vietnam war veteran who keeps himself busy working the night shift as a New York taxi driver. From his unique viewpoint, he watches the city with ever increasing disdain, and a steadily deteriorating mental state. His interactions with two vastly different women, set him on a mission to clear up the scum and filth of The Big Apple.
One of my biggest fears with starting this feature was that certain films would not stand up to the pedestal that they have been put upon over the course of time, and initially Taxi Driver fell within this bracket for me. Although, the film caught and held my attention throughout, when the credits rolled, I felt a little underwhelmed. Given its fight to avoid an X rating, I was expecting a little more ‘gore’ and a lot more violence, an Equalizer-esque spree if you will.
Had this film been made in the last decade or two, I think it would have definitely had more of what I was expecting but that is, I guess, what comes with watching it for the first time some forty-plus years after the original release. I think I have fallen victim to the idiosyncrasies of current cinema standards, but I am not so far gone as to be beyond reach, and hopefully this little project of mine will help to broaden my mind.
If I put aside my apparent desire for needless violence, I can begin to appreciate this film for what it was meant to be and I can understand how, and why, it has stood the test of time. Taxi Driver offers a gritty and realistic depiction of a deteriorating mental state, fuelled by a sense of loneliness and isolation that is juxtaposed by the teeming city life just outside the windows of his cab. Something, that unfortunately, too many people can relate to in this day and age.
For De Niro, this role comes fresh off of the heels of his Oscar win for The Godfather: Part II but for many this was his career-defining role, giving an intense performance that is both captivating and disturbing. It was good to finally see the iconic ‘you talking to me?’ scene in it original setting but what I didn’t know was that it was completely ad-libbed, which gives a small indication of De Niro’s talent.
The main catalyst for Travis’ actions is a hero complex, developed through his interactions with the two main female characters; political campaigner, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and thirteen year old prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster).
The casting of twelve year old Jodie Foster to portray a teenage prostitute was a bold and controversial choice, but a great one. I admire Foster’s ability and maturity to handle such a role at that age, and whilst she did give a strong performance that stood up well alongside De Niro’s, I am not completely sure that it really warranted an Oscar nomination.
Although Taxi Driver was by no means Scorsese’s first directorial piece, it can be argued that this was the film that paved his way as one of the most well-renowned directors in Hollywood. The film was excellently shot, with great attention to detail, including, ironically, an occasional lack of detail that elevated the film and added to the realism.
It was the music that stuck with me the most throughout my viewing of this film. Written by Bernard Hermann shortly before his death, it was jarring and powerful the perfect accompaniment to De Niro’s performance, a great backdrop to the film’s overall aesthetic and a great testament to the timelessness of music in movies.
Overall, Taxi Driver was a solid start to my new feature and a film that I will almost certainly revisit.