Starring: Robert DeNiro, Cybil Shepard, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle
Rated R (probably for Disturbing Content including Graphic Violence and Aberrant Sexuality, and for Language)
How frustrating it is to want to be accepted into society but unable to do so. We've all felt lonely or alienated in some fashion (such as adolescence), which is why we relate to Travis Bickle, a disillusioned and psychotic man who sees society as diseased and corrupt.
Travis (DeNiro) is an ex-Marine suffering from insomnia. To combat this, he takes the night shift as a cabbie, where he sees the decadence and sleaze up close (after every shift, he has to clean the semen out of the back seat). One day he spies a beautiful campaign worker named Betsy (Shepard). He asks her out. The way he does so should raise alarm bells in anyone, but Betsy is intrigued. However, he makes the mistake of taking her to a porn flick on their first date, and that pretty much ends things right then and there. He then meets a twelve-and-a-half year old prostitute named Iris (Foster), whom he is determined to save.
This is a character study of a severly disturbed individual. Whether it's PTSD (Travis is an ex-Marine) or some underlying pathology is never made clear, which is fine, since a definitive diagnosis would ruin his mystique. For the most part, Scorcese's attempts to get inside Travis's head are brilliant, but the screenplay by Paul Schrader is a little underwritten. Loosely inspired by Schrader's own feelings for a time, he should have known that the script was in need of another run through the typewriter.
One thing the film gets absolutely right is the performance by Robert DeNiro. For the last few years, DeNiro has been slumming in mediocre projects for fat paychecks, but one must only view a movie like "Taxi Driver" to see how talented he really is. He's quiet and intelligent, but his mind is a little off course, if you get my drift. This is the work of a lifetime. As Betsy, Cybil Shepard looks like the girl next door, but plays her with a mix of sultriness and predation. When she agrees to go on a date with him, we get the sense that it's with the fascination of someone obsessed with "The Real World" on MTV. Or Jerry Springer. Jodie Foster, in her first truly adult role, is also very good as the street smart hooker. She's wise beyond her years, but not in a good way. She's been taken advantage of in ways she doesn't understand.
Martin Scorcese has always been drawn to misfits and psychotics who want to be "normal," as it were. That quality can be seen in "Goodfellas," "The Departed," and even "The Aviator." But his characters are always hamstrung by their own personalities. Using sight and sound, Scorcese creates an atmosphere of degredation that is static yet always moving. We feel his mounting anger and madness.
"Taxi Driver" isn't an easy film to watch. But the experience is well worth it.