Friday, March 27, 2015

Taxi Driver Review (Classic Write-Up)

Drive Crazy
Crime litters the sidewalk, as rain comes slipping down from the heavens. Droplets of liquid plummet onto the street while an atmosphere of depravity hangs over the entire neighborhood. Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) feels he doesn't belong here, the scumbags around here make him sick. But his psychopathic actions make him a perfect fit for this part of New York City, even if his delusional mind makes him think otherwise.

This is the central plot that drives Taxi Driver, a 39 year old feature directed by a little known filmmaker named Martin Scorsese. Here, he and screenwriter Paul Schrader depict an unflinching look at Travis and his voyage through the seedy underbelly of one of the most well known cities on Earth. After all, considering Travis is a taxi cab driver at night, this gives him countless opportunities to witness all the sort of abhorrent crime that the city has to offer, which only heightens his dangerous disdain.

Sequences with Travis in his cab, driving around and simply observing the night, are some of the simplest moments in structure, but also some of the most effective. The bright neon lights promoting Coke products and the like sharply juxtapose with the nighttime setting of the film, which actually helps not only create compelling imagery, but also reinforce the movies recurring theme of contrast. This pops up in ways that range from the subtle, such as tidy popcorn boxes being neatly arranged in an adult movie theater, or to the more blatant, such as the Mohawk-esque haircut Travis dons in the films final scenes.

That's only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how the movie utilizes the visual aspects of cinema to tell it's story. Look at the moment where Travis is watching a girl he fancies from afar; the shot starts as a close-up on his face, and then pans out at a steady pace to reveal he's watching her right outside the officer that she works at. Suddenly, the positions of the characters in this particular environment, and an unsettling vibe enters the picture, knowing that Travis is clearly aware of where this lady works. It sounds like a seemingly simple, even throwaway, moment, but that's the thing; the shot manages to convey danger and tension in an exquisite manner that doesn't call attention to itself.

It's the kind of masterful work that would make Scorsese one of the biggest names in the history of cinema, though he's far from the only element here that manages to work effortlessly. Attention must be paid to Robert De Niro as well, an actor whom provided quite a shock to me when he first popped up on screen. I've primarily (thanks to me growing up mainly in the 21st century) seen De Niro as an older person, so to see him so young in appearance, but still retaining those trademark vocals of his, was an incredibly shocking moment that called to mind the astonishment I felt in Boyhood when I heard Mason's voice change for the first time.

It's not just with the difference between his young and older appearance that De Niro manages to astound in this movie though. He plays Travis Bickel with this sort of charisma that feels artificial, his interactions with other people feel forced and find a way to disturb in the most nuanced of ways. The score by Bernard Herrmann similarly adds to Taxi Driver's deft ability to put on on edge, with the music he concocts being filled with drums and pulsating dread. It's the perfect accompaniment to this film, a remarkable achievement that contains notably excellent work by filmmakers and actors who are no strangers to quality cinema.

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