Taxi Driver returns to the cinema after 40 years with a 4K restoration. This was done with guidance from its director Martin Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman, and the reissue of the film is one of the highlights of the BFI Martin Scorsese season, running through January and February.
For those unfamiliar with the film, a youthful Robert DeNiro plays ex-Vietnam vet and insomniac, Travis Bickle who takes on the night shift driving a yellow cab through the sleaziest areas of mid-1970’s New York. As he goes about his business, fuelled with pills and liquor, the night-time street-life of the city’s underbelly appalls him and he fantasises about the hookers, junkies, pimps and all the other miscreants being swept away.
So, when a presidential hopeful, Palantine, hops into his cabs Travis doesn’t hold back when asked what he’d do to improve the city. Palantine is clearly un-nerved by the encounter, whereas Travis feels buoyed that he’s finally met someone he can believe in to do the right thing. Clearly a disturbed man, on the outside of society, Travis’ feelings of isolation and frustration grow after taking Betsy (played by Cybil Shepherd), who he meets in Palantine’s campaign headquarters, on a disastrous date to a pornographic film.
After this everything begins to really slide for Travis, culminating in his arming himself to the teeth with guns and a knife and setting out to assassinate Palantine at a day-time rally. This is foiled, so he moves on to rescuing an under-age prostitute he’s befriended, Iris (played by Jodie Foster) from her pimp ‘Sport’, played by Harvey Keitel. This showdown quickly becomes a gory brothel-bloodbath with Sport and two of his henchmen dead and Iris freed, to return to her mid-west family. Travis is badly wounded but, we think, survives.
The last scenes are of a letter of thanks from Iris’ parents to the vigilante hero and praiseworthy newspaper cuttings, then Travis back on the Taxi Rank; and lastly it’s a final fare of Betsy, who’s read about his heroic antics, and seems keen to have a second date perhaps! A calmer and cooler Travis, than we’ve seen before, drops her off and drives away enigmatically into the night. If these last scenes are some kind of dream sequence it’s hard to say, but Travis does seem a rather different character, perhaps the man he was always wanting to be.
This is a classic 1970’s film with Robert De Niro at his best and Scorsese pulling all the right strings. Superb cinematography draw one in to this dark but neon-lit grimy world of the night, and the powerful film score only emphasises the light and shade of the city.
It’s an unsettling ride, but a totally compelling one, right up to the last shots of Travis’ yellow cab trailing off into the distance looking for another fare. I think I might go for an Uber…..
Man About Town.