Taxi Driver (1976)

4/5

USA; Martin Scorsese


Mature Audiences – Sexual References; Strong Bloody Violence; Language


Travis Bickle, an unstable cab driver (Robert de Niro), veteran of the Vietnam War, drifts aimlessly around the dingy and sleazy underbelly of New York City. His every attempt to integrate society again fails, feeding his frustration and resentments. Lonely and increasingly insecure, he finds a momentary outlet for his anger in intense physical training. He dreams into turning himself into a killing machine and feeds his desire for violent action with the misery, pain and sleaze he witnesses every night. Meeting a teen runaway and prostitute, Iris (Jodie Foster), Travis sets out to save her from herself and from her eccentric pimp (Harvey Keitel).

When pitched against Mean Streets, Taxi Driver shows how much Scorsese matured as a director but also as a story-teller (even if he didn’t personally write both stories, the director left his mark on the material). The pace is slower, each development more elaborate and crafted, the narrative arc fallows closely its predetermined path; all almost all respects, Scorsese made a more meaningful, weighty and serious film. It is not about a bunch of reckless gangsters wasting their youth, but about a desperate, lonely once-honest man drifting progressively towards mental breakdown. Instead of following the debauchery of thugs trying to pose as angry young men without a cause, Scorsese treats us to slowly unpeeling character study that feels achingly real and genuinely poignant.

However, why is Mean Streets so much more intoxicating, alive and exhilarating.  Taxi Driver lacks the anarchic sensibility that graced Scorsese’s previous cinematic effort. The aesthetics are sleek, but however sinister the neon-lit underbelly of New York may look, life has deserted these cursed streets, populated by zombies, not by people.

Travis too is turning into a zombie under our very eyes, driven by a rage that hides something much more threatening: a gaping abyss. His vitriolic diatribes and his unfocused hate are just a façade, an illusion of purpose to keep him alive. Bickle is alarmingly believable, and de Niro lends him vulnerability and humanity, which paradoxically make him only more frightening.

Maybe more memorable, though, are the sidekicks, notably Keitel’s bizarre and outlandish apparition. Lurid, loud, bold but uncannily magnetic, he is everything Travis Bickle is not; also everything Taxi Driver, as a film, is not.

Emotionally, Taxi Driver runs deeper, but it lacks Mean Streets’ giddy and disheveled energy. Like Travis himself, the movie fails to be truly seducing, and the spectator remains confined behind a thick glass wall. 

Taxi driver 13    El tragico travis bickle de taxi driver 1976

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