Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).
This month, we’re reviewing some choice cuts from the filmography of one Martin Scorsese.
“I’ll work anytime, anywhere.” So says Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), an insomniac, New York City taxi driver at the end of his rope in Martin Scorsese’s aptly-named 1976 masterpiece, Taxi Driver. Paul Schrader penned this psychological tale of a post-Vietnam War ex-marine who works the night-shift and feels disgusted by the decaying city and people around him. Eternally lonely, he seeks reciprocation of his feelings for Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who volunteers for Senator Charles Palantine’s Presidential campaign. Although she initially gives him the benefit of the doubt, a date to an X-rated movie does not go down well, and her rejection only sends Travis spiralling deeper.
When Travis meets 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster), he makes it his mission to help her escape her pimp Sport (Harvey Keitel); his newly acquired guns giving him the added confidence. What follows is a surprising and breathtaking chain of events, skilfully directed by Scorsese with an original score by Bernard Herrmann.
Perhaps the pinnacle of De Niro’s career, and certainly a distant memory compared to his recent ventures, his portrayal of a man on the cusp of a psychological breakdown is what every aspiring actor should study. He is said to have worked 12-hour shifts as a taxi driver, and studied mental illness, all in preparation for this role. Couple this with some unforgettable dialogue, including the most famous line — “You talkin’ to me?” – and you can see why Taxi Driver has earned itself a cult following and a place on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years 100 Movies list.
It seems a shame that Taxi Driver lost Best Picture at the Academy Awards to Rocky, as well as De Niro bowing out in the Best Actor in a Leading Role category to Peter Finch for Network. Yet the feature has, in many ways, outshone its awards competitors all these years later, and is such a joy to watch whether for the first or fiftieth time. There is much to respect about this film; from the use of improvisation to religious symbolism and the exceptionally measured performances, Scorsese truly struck gold.
Taxi Driver is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and can be streamed via Quickflix’s Watch Now service.