Saturday, July 30, 2011

Taxi Driver

Martin Scorsese's 1976 film Taxi Driver is one of those films I was aware of without knowing anything about it. A film that appears in people's top ten film lists. A film that writers drop into articles without explanation, in expectation that the reader is already familiar with it. It is the first film I saw at this year's International Film Festival.

Taxi Driver stars Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle an inarticulate, contradictory, angry young Vietnam veteran who takes a job as a night time taxi driver in New York to cope with insomnia. Apparently from a small town, Travis is both repulsed and fascinated by prostitution, pornography and homosexuality. Ranting (mostly in his diary) about the need to clean up the filth, he watches porn during the day. Travis becomes obsessed by two women: romantically by Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) a political campaign worker and Iris a child prostitute (played by then 13 year old Jodie Foster) who he wants to rescue. Neither is keen to fit in with Travis's ideas for them.

Taxi Driver is a slacker film for the most part, with a violent end that is clearly signalled during the long slow build up. We know he wants to kill someone but it is not clear that he knows who or why. Robert DeNiro is in virtually every scene, and there an obvious contrast between the to-the-audience narration by his character which comes across as moderately articulate (albeit somewhat vague and rambling) and his often tongue tied conversations with co-workers, clients and others where he comes across as a throwback from another time and place. The ending was a bit odd, the police were on the scene extremely quickly, but for reasons not explained it seems that they chose not to prosecute Travis.

The film is more about an idea than a character or events. The alienation of people from each other caused both by living in a big city and by serving in a war like Vietnam. You could substitute the Iraq War and both the US and USSR's wars with Afghanistan, but I am not sure that current day New York is quite as exciting and menacing as 1976 New York.

I particularly liked Harvey Kietel's performance as a long haired pimp, while the late Peter Boyle looked almost the same in 1976 as he did in the almost current Everybody loves Raymond.

Ian's rating 3/5

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