Ranking: #99/111

Director: Martin Scorsese (USA)               

Genre: Neo-Noir Psycho-Social Drama

This is a masterly neo-noir portrait of alienation and loneliness within a decaying, degenerating inner city environment. New York in the 70s is seen through the eyes of insomniac taxi driver, Travis Bickle, the post-modern anti-hero of the story who is disgusted by the human “scum” taking over the city: pimps, drug-pushers, prostitutes and armed criminals. The film charts his mental deterioration and descent into a final explosive at of vigilante violence. The power of the movie derives from Scorsese’s vision of the dark, seedy side of New York of the time, along with the innovative camera work and editing. There is also a vaguely disturbing and expressive score by Bernard Hermann, which fits in perfectly with the themes, imagery and story. Robert de Niro gives an immensely concentrated performance as the down and out, isolated former marine. His actions are carried along by a strong, linear narrative structure with dream-like cinematic effects.

Filmmaker and film theoretician, Lee Bobker, once said of this movie: “The destruction of the individual by an uncaring and unfeeling society has seldom been more strongly and interestingly revealed than in Taxi Driver.” (Bobker, Elements of Film 3rd Edition, p.221). Yet even this praise may be understated. The film deserves to be seen as more than a cult classic; rather it’s a masterpiece of the post-modern period of cinema, masterfully blending its social portrait of New York City and its psychological study of Travis Bickle into one nightmarish world. It’s no mean feat to merge the objective and subjective worlds being studied into an artistic unity. In addition to the film’s artistic value, it is haunting and powerful at a personal level, leaving indelible impressions on the viewer. This is due both to the poignance of the theme of the isolation of the working-class individual adrift in a big city and to the indelible power of De Niro’s performance. With great conviction and energy, he brings to life the agonies and desperation of a lost soul who turns into a vigilante figure trying to save his city and, more specifically, the child prostitute he has befriended (played by Jodie Foster).

A masterwork and a milestone in film history.