I feel as though I should begin this review by stating a very simple fact: Taxi Driver (1976) is the greatest film in the history of cinema. Never before or since has a film managed to comprise such an astonishing array of elements to create such a powerful work of art. With each of the film’s key exponents at the very height of their powers, it’s hard to imagine that a coming-together of this kind of talent and imagination will happen again anytime soon, and with Taxi Driver finally seeing its Blu Ray release, it is only a matter of time until it finds its way into the hearts of a whole new generation of fans and admirers.
For those unfamiliar with the film, Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver tells the story of Travis Bickle, a New York taxi driver whose intense loneliness and alienation from the city he inhabits spirals gradually into the realms of violence and insanity. Through the staggeringly imbalanced performance of Robert De Niro in the role of the protagonist, Bickle has subsequently become one of Hollywood’s most infamous anti-heroes, much in the same way as Peter Finch’s performance as Howard Beale in cult classic Network (1976) a character who has also became a symbol of a man not content with accepting the ways of a society in which he does not fit.
In fact, it is my opinion that De Niro’s performance as Bickle is the truly defining moment of his career. While there are dozens of perfectly good examples as to just why De Niro is the finest actor to have ever graced the big screen, I believe that it is this most complex of performances that demonstrates just how perfect a performer he was before the dark days of Meet the Fockers (2004) and Righteous Kill (2008). While it is easy to heap praise on De Niro for his performance, the ability of Scorsese in harnessing and directing this powerhouse portrayal is nothing short of genius. What has now become one of Hollywood’s most successful and celebrated partnerships between lead and director, with films such as Mean Streets (1973), Raging Bull (1980) and Goodfellas (1990) can be seen here in its most abrasive and finely tuned form.
Equally note-worthy in setting the dark and complex tone of Taxi Driver is Paul Schrader and his pitch-perfect screenplay. The initially slow-burning nature of the writing makes the rapid deterioration and increasing aggression of the protagonist all the more powerful as the screenplay unfolds, drawing the audience slowly but surely into Bickle’s ever-more disturbing psyche. Bernard Herrmann’s soundtrack also goes someway to setting the tone of the city and the stark air of loneliness surrounding Bickle; its unique and instantly recognisable sound of saxophones and subtle melancholy rank alongside his iconic sound accompaniment for such classics as Citizen Kane (1941) and Psycho (1960).
As much as I would like to provide some kind of criticism to add a sense of balance to this review and slightly reduce the overwhelming sense of fan-boy love I possess for this film, I simply cannot find fault with it or any of its parts. Even the supporting cast turn in career-defining performances, with a young Jodie Foster bringing remarkable tenderness to her role as a child prostitute and Harvey Keitel adding a deeply unsettling tone of menace to proceedings as her a heartless pimp.In short, anyone who has not yet seen Taxi Driver ought to buy a copy this very instant.