‘Taxi Driver’ remains a powerful ride

Movie Review

Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver”

Certain movie-character names stand as immediate identifiers of what the person and film are all about, and Travis Bickle is one of them.

Any remotely familiar with motion pictures will recognize that as Robert De Niro’s role director Martin Scorsese’s searing 1976 drama “Taxi Driver,” which currently is streaming on Netflix. The Paul Schrader-written story of a disenfranchised loner who finds acceptance through unusual means has retained its power, painting a haunting portrait of the New York era while telling the tale of one man’s very specific journey.

Bickle finds work as the late-shift cabbie of the title, and he has definite thoughts about the social decay he sees around him, underscored visually (and brilliantly, by cinematographer Michael Chapman) by the steam that rises from the street grates, create a sort of curtain over the city. His hopes for something better are personified by an attractive political-campaign worker (Cybill Shepherd) who is somewhat bemused, and ultimately turned off, by his efforts to court her.

Soon, though, Bickle finds another purpose in Iris (Jodie Foster), a young prostitute he envisions rescuing from that occupation. Turning himself into her avenging angel of sorts, he changes his physical appearance, fashioning his hair into a mohawk … and moving toward turning his increasingly violent fantasies into reality. Bickle’s resistance to being questioned is crystallized by his iconic line, “You talkin’ to me?”

In a decade of upheaval that was filled with movies that questioned authority, “Taxi Driver” was one of the most disturbing examples, particularly coming from a major studio (Columbia Pictures). It undoubtedly went a long way toward establishing Scorsese’s career and it surely centered De Niro as a versatile performer, coming as it did on the heels of his Oscar win as the young Don Corleone in “The Godfather, Part II.”

Another strong suit of “Taxi Driver” is its unforgettable score by Bernard Herrmann, the frequent Alfred Hitchcock associate who died soon after competing this assignment. The music strongly evokes the atmosphere and the plot, and it’s a stunning piece of work on its own. Additional cast members who make their marks include Peter Boyle, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel and then-entertainment critic Leonard Harris.

Though there has been talk of a sequel from time to time, there still is no other movie like “Taxi Driver” the better part of 50 years later. And many will contend, rightfully, that it deserves to continue standing on its own.

Jay Bobbin

Jay Bobbin has decades of experience covering the television and movie businesses, winning Tribune Media Services’ Crown Jewel Award in 2008 for his performance in the company. Over those many years of interviewing and writing, he has spoken with everyone from Robert De Niro and John Travolta to Paul McCartney and Tony Bennett … from Meryl Streep and Julie Andrews to Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.

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