#82: Taxi Driver (1976)

When and how did I watch this?

November 15th, 2016, on Amazon Instant Video.

Had I seen this film already?

Nope.

What did I know about the movie before watching it?

Scorcese directing, De Niro as a crazed Vietnam vet driving a taxi around.  Dude is a screen legend, and I expected great things, and a lot of violence.

What do I know about it now?

I stumbled upon a film called “The King of Comedy” some late night staying up too late watching TV as a kid. I didn’t really know who De Niro was, nor would I have likely recognized him in the role.  What struck me about his performance — which I have never forgotten — was his ability to absorb the personality and appear human, complicated (as we all are), and sincere all the while completely embodying the fringe weirdo Pupkin develops into. De Niro’s role in Taxi reminded me of this performance. We’re enamored by Mr. Bickle almost instantly, because he could be anyone we know already. But then he approaches Betsy, a campaign worker for a corrupt politician (so we’re made to believe by Travis’ behavior), and his approach to this woman, and later his encounters with the senator, help us believe there’s something terribly wrong with him.  He has internal dilemmas.  He watches porns and doesn’t even feel it or know why. His aloof co-workers all pretending to be tough guys can’t finish sentences or thoughts, which further confuses and frustrates him. The adolescent prostitute (a very young Jodie Foster) is too proud yet insightful for her age, and we see Travis gradually fall in love with the idea of vigilante justice, first looking to take out the senator, then, realizing his true calling, turns to rescue the trapped prostitute in heroic fashion.  The ending reminded me of Unbreakable, a personal favorite about a normal dude turned superhero doing something noble in the end, but in this case, we’re not talking about superhero.  This is one of us.  Yes, the movie IS violent, as expected, but only in the end, and in a way we don’t expect. The harsh colors of the passing street lights, the tough guy talk coming from the not-so-tough, and the saxophone throughout the film really put it all together.  It’s perfect.

 What are some themes in the film?

Justice (vigilante or otherwise), pride, delusion and reality, destiny, urban plight (poverty/prostitution/corruption)

Did this affect me personally?

The film is designed for us to never forget Travis Bickle, both as a regular dude doing his daily thing, and a plainclothes hero. The final sequence, as is in a lot of these films, is intense and memorable.

Why is this ranked #82?

Scorcese/De Niro is always a winning combo and a fan favorite.  The film is violent and rattling.  It has the ORIGINAL “You talkin’ to me” line (which I discovered later was entirely ad-libbed).  On another level, as described earlier, we can all relate to the protagonist on some level.

Did my wife watch/like it?

She paid attention off and on, and as usual, she squirmed at the tenser sequences.

Would I watch it again?

Probably.  It’s pretty rough at times, but makes for a good late-night flick.

Would I recommend it to a friend?

Before Leo became Mr. Scorcese’s weapon of choice, there was De Niro, and this was in his prime.  It’s worth your time to check out any of their films from this era.

Does it deserve to be on this list as one of the greatest films of all time?

Why not?  It has all of those essentials in it, but what makes this one rise slightly above others is the way it’s paced. We’re subject to what’s “important” to Bickle — he narrates the whole thing — and it’s possible we even skip over events, or that some are embellished, as our own memories of things might allow.  He doesn’t sleep much, so like a stream of consciousness, we’re jarred and we jump into different moments in the timeline, all linear, but nonetheless somewhat sporadically. While the story and everything about the screenplay is compelling, the feeling this style generates is what makes us fall in love with it, and puts it in the category of greatness.

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