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Taxi Driver

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Taxi Driver

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: R
RunTime: 114 Minutes
Release Date: February 1976
Genres: Classic, Drama, Action, Cult

*Also starring: Cybill Shepherd, Peter Boyle, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Leonard Harris, Joe Spinell, Martin Scorsese

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
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3.  Walter Frith read the review ---
4.  Dragan Antulov read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
4 stars out of 4

One of Martin Scorsese's first and most important pictures was TAXI DRIVER. For its 20th anniversary, there is a new print and a remastered stereo sound track, and the picture has a new theatrical release. Some of the hairdos make look dated, but the message it tells is as powerful and frightening today as it was in 1976. This is a landmark film in the history of the cinema.

Robert De Niro plays 26 year old Vietnam vet Travis Bickle. Travis is a New York City taxi driver who willing works the nightshift in the roughest sections of town. Prostitutes use the back seat of his taxi as a moving bed, and people are stabbed in it. Travis is a psychological misfit, but someone who wants this degradation cleaned up. He, of course, does not realize that he is one of them. He says, "someday a real rain will come and wipe this scum off the streets." He wants to be that rain.

He falls in love with a beautiful woman in the window of a Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris) for President campaign headquarters. He finds her name is Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), and he even gets her to go on a date with him. They both have an outward innocence that make them appear well matched in some strange sense. When Betsy realizes that his idea of a date is a porn movie in the sleaziest area of town, she walks out and refuses to ever speak to him again. He is so naive that he does not realize that taking her to a porn movie on their first date is a faux pas.

Some of the movie has the taxi drivers at a coffee shop, a la DINER, discussing life. After Betsy ditches him, Travis tries to understand it all so he turns to the oldest and hence wisest taxi driver, who goes by the nickname of Wizard (Peter Boyle). Wizard sees his job as the shaper of his destiny and tells Travis, "You get a job. You become the job."

The show is full of great visuals. Travis sits in front of the TV staring with a wasted look and glazed eyes while eating his breakfast, which consists of white bread clumps with large quantities of brandy, sugar, and milk poured on top. In another he glares at American Bandstand while holding a gun with a foot long barrel resting on his temple.

There are many great minor characters. One of my favorites has Martin Scorsese as a husband sitting in Travis's taxi watching his philandering wife's silhouette in the window of an apartment. He turns out to be as evil as Travis. Eventually Travis buys himself a small arsenal of weapons. He practices the classic cinematic line, "You talkin' to me," in the mirror while practicing drawing his guns quasi-cowboy style. He tells himself, "Listen world. Here is a man who stood up against the scum."

Travis meets a 12 1/2 year old prostitute named Iris who calls herself Easy (Jodie Foster). He decides he wants to save her in particular and mankind in general, but the problem is that she does not want to be saved since she is used to staying with her pimp Matthew, whom she calls Sport (Harvey Keitel). To Travis this is all a mission as if from God, although he claims no divine inspiration. Travis says, "Now I see this clearly. My whole life is pointed in one direction. There never has been a choice for me."

In a scene reminiscent of John Hinkley, Travis goes fully armed to a Palantine rally. The senator is delivering a pompous and meaningless speech that parallels Travis's vision of life. The senator proclaims, "We meet at a crossroads in history. No longer will the wrong roads be taken." In a movie full of make up and hair styles that make a statement, Travis shows up at the rally with a Mohawk. The ending is suspenseful, extremely gory, and somewhat surprising. The epilogue after that is really surprising.

So much of this study of evil is brilliant. Certainly at the top of the list is the acting by De Niro, but close behind would be the directing and the writing (Paul Schrader). Everyone knows what an excellent job Jodie Foster did, but I was impressed at how Cybill Shepherd took the almost coquettish but naive minor part and made it interesting. Harvey Keitel had a tiny part, but managed to put a lot into it.

The cinematography (Michael Chapman) throughout the picture is quite effective showing the grit and the garish lights of the city, but the slow motion sequences at the end are the best. The sets (Charles Rosen) of New York City are suitably ugly, thus creating just the right images. The costume design (Ruth Morley) ranged from a lovely set of sweet dress complete with beautiful neck bands for Betsy to sinister outfits for Travis. An impressive range.

I certainly was pleased with the remastered sound since the show had great movie music (Bernard Herrmann). It started off with sad and melancholic tunes and then switched to ominous ones created with a muted trumpet. Rarely these days do films dare to have any music to speak of, and if they do, it is frequently nothing more that loud and overpowering rock music that turns the show into a long rock video more suitable for MTV.

TAXI DRIVER runs a well edited, thanks to Marcia Lucas, Tom Rolf, and Melvin Shapiro, and fast 1:53. It is rated R, but borders on NC-17. There is no sex or nudity. The language is frequently obscene, and there are some racial epithets. The reason I say it is almost NC-17 is solely for the gory ending. I do not think the violence is gratuitous, and I am glad the studio did not demand a more saleable version without the scenes. I think the picture as delivered is brilliant. I would let teenagers see it if they are mature. I recommend the film highly, and give it my top rating of ****.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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