Thursday, October 20, 2016

Retro Review: TAXI DRIVER (1976)

Welcome to another installment of RETRO REVIEW, where we take a look at films made before the year 2000. Today we look at a classic celebrating it’s 40th Birthday… Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER.

Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, released in 1976, tells the story of Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro), a 26-year old discharged U.S. Marine who finds work as, you guessed it, a taxi driver. This story explores themes of loneliness, obsession, depression, and insanity in an extremely engaging and interesting way as we see a very particular guy engage with a very particular kind of world. This film stars a young Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, and Cybill Shepherd.

As a general matter, Taxi Driver is an incredible film. There’s no reason to mince words around it. Additionally, although Scorsese had some decent films (or at least one, Mean Streets) prior to this one, this really announced him as someone who would become one of the greats of our time. This film is really great, interesting, well-constructed, challenging, well-acted, pretty much everything you want in a film. Winner of the Palme d’Or and nominee for four Academy Awards (including Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Original Score), the accolades speak for themselves in some ways.

To speak to specific positives I see in this film, the two biggest are the directorial style and melody Scorsese brings to the story and the dynamic and powerful performance DeNiro delivers. The way Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman shot this movie give it an incredible dream like quality as we cruise around 1970s New York with interesting voice over from DeNiro. The film shows a dirty grit and realism to everything that is going on in company with the dreamlike nature that really made this movie extremely interesting to watch. I also thought the way the score is layered in and how the story unfolds bit by bit furthered this visual feel and made in an even stronger film.

There is no way this movie works or is remotely as good as it is without the outstanding performance by Robert DeNiro. Even at this young stage in his career DeNiro delivers a masterclass in acting conveying emotions and levels that few actors could ever hope to achieve. His character goes through phases and reacts to an array of events that occur throughout the film that builds out a fully formed character. The total commitment to the performance is evident and the stories surrounding the film of DeNiro actually driving a cab around New York prior to filming have real weight because of what is shown on screen. By the end when he’s arguably at his most “insane” his performance is so incredibly well-crafted that you have total buy into what is going on and complete investment. DeNiro is aided by a number of solid supporting performances, notably from Cybill Shepherd and Jodie Foster, and one odd supporting performance by Harvey Keitel as a pimp which makes him almost unrecognizable.

Being the masterpiece that it is, Taxi Driver has few negatives. There is a violent sequence near the end of the film that for me was too self-indulgent however. It dispatched with the realism shown in the rest of the film became overly vague and surrealist in a moment where head down realism would have much better served the narrative of this story. This is an extremely, extremely small issue in a dramatically outstanding film, however and hardly mars the general greatness of the piece as a whole.

Taxi Driver is a spectacular film and announced Martin Scorsese as a director who would be one of the greats of our time. This film also shows off one of the great performances of Robert DeNiro’s career in a meaningful way. This is a must watch for any cinephile and a great film as a general matter.

Ryan’s Score: 9/10

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