Sunday, March 20, 2011

Taxi Driver

Last night I screened the 35th anniversary re-release of Taxi Driver, starring Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster.

All the lonely people, where do they all come from?

That line from The Beatles'"Eleanor Rigby"fits this film like a glove, as its main character, Travis Bickle (De Niro), tries to find companionship and contentment in 1970s New York.

He's a veteran of Vietnam (though that detail is not overblown) who has alienated himself intentionally from his family and taken on a job as a cab driver, working extended hours to combat his insomnia.

As he drives the streets of the gritty city, he witnesses horrific acts of violence and deviance. And though he's judgmental of these behaviors, he himself has a porn habit and thinks nothing of taking the woman of his dreams, Betsy (Cybill Shephard), to an adult film on their second date.

When Betsy up-and-leaves near the beginning of the film, Travis is baffled by her reaction and continues to attempt to connect with her, though she rejects him.

He becomes obsessed with righting wrongs in his own way, tries to rescue a not-yet-teenage prostitute, Iris (Foster), and purchases an arsenal of weapons to execute his plan. He is a fully functional, mentally ill mess of a person.

Having watched this film a handful of times on VHS and DVD doesn't compare for a moment to experiencing it on the big screen. Hearing the crowd react to the 'surprises' in the storyline and seeing repeated close-ups of the young De Niro acting primarily through expression truly reveals the genius of director Scorcese's depth.

Iconic lines are delivered with conviction; tension is built through the continuous loop of saxophone; just enough comic relief is introduced to allow the audience to breathe.

A pre-Giuliani New York City is the second most important character to De Niro's Travis, showed as the dangerous, dark place that it once was.

Something must also be said for Jodie Foster's amazing performance as a young hooker who knows no other life. The wisdom of this then-future Oscar winner shines through as she holds her own with De Niro and Harvey Keitel. It's a role all young actors should be forced to watch.

35 years later, Scorcese's masterpiece remains just that—a brilliant character study and master class on portraying mental illness.


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