Taxi Driver | Film review
Thirty-five years after its release, Scorsese’s NYC death trip remains as brilliant (and problematic) as ever.
If Travis Bickle were a real person, he’d be pleased with how we remember him. Not as a butcher, the terrible specter of Vietnam come home to roost, but as a lionized pop icon—an all-American Alex DeLarge or Hannibal Lecter with better eating habits. We plaster his sneering visage on dorm-room walls and recite his psychotic bedroom monologues as if they were comedy routines. It sometimes feels as though we’re all living in the epilogue of Taxi Driver, minus the ironic quotation marks. Here, in our real world, Travis Bickle—insomniac cabbie, porno connoisseur, budding political assassin—is a hero.
Do we blame De Niro, young and fierce and lean, for making this madman so persuasive, so charismatic in his lunacy? Do we blame screenwriter Paul Schrader, an angry urbanite himself, for exorcising his inner-city demons through such an outsize personality? Maybe it’s all just on Scorsese, then still a wiry NYC film brat, stepping into the role of Next Great American Auteur by absorbing all the hate and unrest of the war and its aftermath and spewing it back onto a vibrantly seedy big-city nightmare.
The burden of responsibility lies with all of these men. So too does the credit: Taxi Driver may stand as one of the most dangerously misunderstood of American classics, but a classic it remains. Revisit the film today—it’s screening in a new, 35th-anniversary print—and what strikes you aren’t just the iconic moments, but the little ones: the easy rapport between De Niro’s sleepless driver and his energetic colleagues; Keitel’s vile pimp dancing with a preteen Foster, in what’s at once the film’s sweetest and its ickiest interaction; and any scene in that campaign office, where Taxi Driver fleetingly transforms into an Albert Brooks movie before there was such a thing as an Albert Brooks movie.