Thursday, February 21, 2013

Taxi Driver

Directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader, Taxi Driver is the story of a former U.S. marine who has become a taxi driver in New York City. Alienated by his surroundings and unable to connect, he decides to plot an assassination against a political candidate while he befriends a 12-year old hooker as he wonders what to do. The film is an exploration into a man dealing with his isolation and the world he’s surrounded by as he tries to connect while becoming unhinged by what’s happening around him. Starring Robert de Niro, Cybill Shepherd, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, and Peter Boyle. Taxi Driver is a dark yet mesmerizing film from Martin Scorsese.

The film is about this lonely man who works as a taxi driver in New York City as he is troubled by what goes on in the city. Unable to connect with people as he makes various attempts that fail. He starts to go mad as he hopes to kill a famed political candidate in order to get some attention as he is also intrigued by a 12-year old prostitute who he hopes to help. In this journey that Travis Bickle (Robert de Niro) ventures into, it’s the story of this lonely man who feels isolated by the world around him as he’s just trying to make a living yet is troubled by his surroundings. He does descend into madness after a date with a campaign volunteer in Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) doesn’t go well due to his lack of social skills. There, he turns into dark and violent thoughts while wanting to help this young hooker named Iris (Jodie Foster) so she can return home and stay away from this dark world that includes a pimp named Sport (Harvey Keitel).

Paul Schrader’s screenplay explores a man’s isolation and his descent as he finds himself dealing with the chaos that he’s in. Yet, there is a semblance of humanity in Travis Bickle as he tries whatever it takes to connect with people as he often confides in another cab driver named Wizard (Peter Boyle). Still, his attempts are often misguided when he takes Betsy on a date by going to a porn theater. It’s not just that Bickle has poor social skills, it’s just that he is in a world that is in ruins and some of the passengers he meets are very despicable people including Sport whom he treats Iris like a father figure and a lover. Driven by this sense of isolation and the duty to wanting to set things right. He decides to go after this political candidate named Palantine (Leonard Harris) in order to bring things back to balance but things eventually become complicated. With Iris’ troubles, Bickle offers to help her out but she is unsure if she wants to come home as it gives Bickle a reason to do something.

Schrader’s script is very layered in terms of its presentation as it features a lot of voice-over narration to reflect on Bickle’s isolation and paranoia as he would state things like “I’m God’s lonely man”. There’s elements of film noir in the narration and in the narrative of the script but there’s also a bit of plot schematics of the western that is involved. A lot of which had to do with Bickle playing cowboy in order to save Iris from this dark and seedy world. Yet, in the wake of what Bickle might do. There comes a lot of questions about the aftermath whether Bickle has become better for his actions or has it made him worse.

Martin Scorsese’s direction is very entrancing for the way he explores a man’s isolation set in mid-1970s New York City where it’s a place that is truly troubled by its decay. Notably as he uses a lot of unique framing devices and stylish presentation to convey this sense of isolation and intimacy that is present in the mind of Travis Bickle. With the use of slow-motion camera shots that would either convey a desire that Bickle wants or to establish his descent. There is something in the film’s direction where Scorsese that is unsettling yet very hypnotic in the way he slowly goes for a close-up and to play out Bickle’s madness. Even in one of the film’s most famous moments in which Bickle talks to himself in a mirror and say “you’re talking to me” as it shows Bickle ready to take on the world.

While Scorsese also presents some moments of intimacy in the way Bickle interacts with various characters in some medium shots or in close-ups. Some of it is shown with simplicity but there are moments where it adds a mood to the film as it maintains Bickle’s slow descent. By the third act where Bickle gets ready to kill Palantine, there is that element of suspense of whether Bickle will do something but there is also that sense of trouble where he might just back off. Then there’s the film’s violence where it is very stylized not just in the way Scorsese presents the action but also its impact as it is very disturbing in the way blood looked and such. Overall, Scorsese crafts a very gripping yet visceral film about madness and isolation.

Cinematographer Michael Chapman does amazing work with the film‘s very grimy cinematography from the eerie nighttime look of the city to some of the more haunting interior colors in some scenes set at night. Editors Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf, and Melvin Shapiro do great work with the editing as it plays an air of style with its jump-cuts and various rhythms to play out the sense of action that occurs throughout the film. Art director Charles Rosen and set decorator Herbert F. Milligan do terrific work with the look of Bickle’s apartment to establish his personality as well as the more colorful look of Iris’ room.

Costume designer Ruth Morley does excellent work with the costumes from the clothes that Iris wears when she works to the stylish clothes of Betsy. Sound mixer Les Lazarowitz does nice work with the sound to capture the chaos of many of the film‘s exterior setting as well as some of the tense moments inside the cab. The film’s music by Bernard Herrmann is truly ravishing for the sense of melancholia that is played in its jazz-based score filled saxophone and jazz scales to capture that sense of decay where it’s seductive but also disturbing as it’s one of Herrmann’s best scores.

The casting by Juliet Taylor is brilliant as it features some wonderful small performances from director Martin Scorsese as a passenger wanting to kill his wife, Leonard Harris as the political candidate Palantine, Richard Higgs as a Secret Service agent, Steve Prince as a gun salesman, and Albert Brooks as a fellow co-worker of Betsy who provides some funny moments in the film. Peter Boyle is great as the veteran cabbie Wizard who provides a lot of insight and wisecracks about what it takes to be a great cab driver. Harvey Keitel is amazing as the pimp Sport as he brings a lot of charisma to a role that is very complex as he’s very fatherly to Iris while he has some very cool exchanges with de Niro. Cybill Shepherd is excellent as Betsy as this woman who is intrigued by Bickle but is also disturbed by his lack of social skills.

Jodie Foster is brilliant as the young prostitute Iris who is curious about why Bickle wants to save her as she is a young girl who is just very confused about what she’s doing as it’s very chilling yet sprawling performance for the actress who was only in her teens at the time. Finally, there’s Robert de Niro in an outstanding performance as Travis Bickle. In this role of a troubled cab driver, de Niro displays the sense of loneliness in his voiceover narration as well as an awkwardness to a man who is really struggling to connect as de Niro also provides a craziness to his performance as it’s definitely one of his best.

Taxi Driver is a magnificent film from Martin Scorsese that features a chilling yet fantastic performance from Robert de Niro. Along with strong supporting performances from Jodie Foster, Cybill Shepherd, Harvey Keitel, and Peter Boyle. It’s definitely one of Scorsese’s great films as well as one of the most eerie studies in isolation and madness thanks in part to Paul Schrader’s harrowing script. In the end, Taxi Driver is a tremendous film from Martin Scorsese.

Martin Scorsese Films: (Who’s That Knocking on My Door?) - (Street Scenes) - Boxcar Bertha - (Mean Streets) - Italianamerican - Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore - New York, New York - American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince - (The Last Waltz) - Raging Bull - The King of Comedy - After Hours - The Color of Money - The Last Temptation of Christ - New York Stories-Life Lessons - Goodfellas - Cape Fear (1991 film) - The Age of Innocence - (A Personal Journey with Martin Scorsese Through American Movies) - (Casino) - (Kundun) - (My Voyage to Italy) - Bringing Out the Dead - (The Blues-Feel Like Going Home) - Gangs of New York - (The Aviator (2004 film)) - No Direction Home - The Departed - Shine a Light - Shutter Island - (A Letter to Elia) - (Public Speaking) - George Harrison: Living in the Material World - Hugo - The Wolf of Wall Street - (The Fifty Year Argument) - Silence (2016 film) - (The Irishman) - Killers of the Flower Moon - (An Afternoon with SCTV)

© thevoid99 2013


Unknown said...

This film is fantastic. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time.

Chris said...

Good observation about ”element of suspense of whether Bickle will do something”, that gets overlooked sometimes.

thevoid99 said...

@Teddy Casimir-It's definitely a classic soundtrack. One of Herrmann's best pieces

@Chris-It's a film that is masterful in its approach to suspense because of how unpredictable Bickle is and how far he can be pushed

Josh said...

Very nice review. It really is a great movie. Arguably Scorsese's best. Makes me wanna go back and watch it again. Been so long that it's kinda hazy.

But Scorsese really did great here. From tone tothe performances he pulled out of his actors, just everything....he had it firing on all cylinders. And the acting was superb all around. Foster was definitely impressive while De Niro was in top form here.

thevoid99 said...

@Josh-Thank you. It's a film that I think everyone who loves it should re-watch every few years or something. I need to re-watch it though I have other films to do for the time being.

Dusty said...

Really nice review!

I've never, in all my years of watching and reading about Taxi Driver, have I made the film noir connection to the voice over. However, you are absolutely right. That is what Schrader is paying homage to and reinventing...and it does volumes to create the atmosphere of the piece.

Very astute point!

Alex Withrow said...

Oh what a great review here. My favorite film of all time, for MANY of the reasons you mentioned. De Niro is just a goddamn subtle force of nature. And Herrmann's music... perfect. Just perfect.

thevoid99 said...

@Dusty McGowan-de Niro's narration definitely has that noir tone in the way he speaks and it adds to the idea that there's a film noir element to the film.

@Alex-It is a perfect film. That's very rare. Although it is my 2nd favorite Scorsese film behind Raging Bull.