Taxi Driver

Released:  1976

Cast:  Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Supporting Actress (Jodie Foster), Best Music, Original Score (Bernard Herrmann)

SUMMARY:  Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is a former Marine who served in the Vietnam War.  After being honorably discharged and returning to New York City, Travis finds himself depressed and unable to sleep, so he gets a job driving a taxi, partly during the night.  Travis spends his free time watching TV, going to porn movies, and writing in a diary.  While he is working, he frequently drives past the campaign headquarters of Senator Charles Palantine, who is running for President.  Through the windows of this office, Travis can see campaign volunteer Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), with whom he becomes obsessed.  Betsy and another volunteer notice Travis hanging around, but do nothing about it.  Eventually, Travis works up the courage to go inside the building, where he volunteers for the campaign as an excuse to talk to Betsy.  She agrees to go out to coffee with him, and then to a second date.  However, on this second date, Travis takes her to one of the porn theaters; Betsy is so offended that she walks out.  Travis tries to call her, then sends flowers repeatedly, but Betsy refuses to talk to him.  He ultimately confronts her at the campaign officer, where he rants at her before being kicked out.  After this, Travis starts to have darker thoughts, particularly involving violence against the filth (both literal and metaphorical) he sees in New York.  These thoughts are not helped by Travis’ experience one night with an underage prostitute:  she gets in the cab and pleads with him to drive away, but is pulled out of the cab by her pimp, who throws Travis a twenty.

From an underground dealer, Travis buys several hand guns, including one which he rigs into a sleeve gun.  He uses one of these guns on a robber in a convenience store one evening, but the store owner volunteers to take care of the body and the gun.  Eventually, Travis tracks down the teenage prostitute, and pays the pimp, Matthew “Sport” Higgins (Harvey Keitel) for time with her.  However, Travis uses his time with the girl, named Iris (Jodie Foster) to talk to her and try to convince her to give up prostitution and return home.  Iris refuses to do this, but agrees to meet Travis for breakfast the next day.  Travis ultimately sends Iris a letter, explaining that he will soon be dead, and a wad of money for her to use to return home.  However, Sport gets the letter first, and does not reveal it to Iris.  Travis is now ready to act, and shaves his hair into a Mohawk to signify this.  He then arms himself and goes to an outdoor rally for Senator Palantine, where he plans to assassinate the candidate.  However, having previously been pegged as a suspicious character, Travis is spotted and pursued by Secret Service agents, and so is unable to carry out his plan (he believes the Senator to be corrupt).  He then heads to Sport’s brothel and shoots his way inside, killing Sport, the bouncer outside the doors, and another man inside one of the rooms.  Travis is hit several times, but manages to keep moving until he gets to Iris’s room.  There, he kills the man inside with Iris, then attempts to use the last bullet on himself.  However, he has already used all the bullets, and so simply lays on the couch until the police arrive.  Travis eventually recovers from the bullet wounds, and goes back to being a taxi driver.  The city hails him as a hero for taking on organized crime; he also gets a letter from Iris’s father, telling him that Iris came home and is doing well.  While working one day, Travis picks up Betsy in the cab, and she apologizes.  In return, he refuses to take her money for the cab ride, then drives away.

MY TAKE:  Despite its huge reputation, I was not thrilled with this movie.  I can’t really explain why, but it’s got the same characteristics as a lot of 1970s-era movies that leave me lukewarm (much like The Deer Hunter).  There seems to be a lot of scenes that don’t really contribute to the plot in these movies, which slows down the pace, and makes the relevant scenes seem abrupt.  For example, Travis only sees Iris like two times before he up and decides to blast his way to her and send her home.  Granted, he’s crazy, but it kinda comes out of nowhere.  Actually, Cybill Shepherd has almost as big (and as important) role in the movie, and nobody remembers her being in it.  I may be the only one who thinks so, but this movie doesn’t live up to its reputation.

P.S. This is also the movie that sort of set John Hinckley, Jr. on his path of destruction.  Hinckley was obsessed with Jodie Foster, in part because of this movie, and in 1981 tried to assassinate President Reagan in order to get her attention.  Apparently crazy begets crazy.

RATING:  Lackluster.


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