Taxi driver is the opposite of Ben Hur! Martin Scorsese was at his best with this film, and not yet concerned with chasing his elusive Oscar. The director had come from a documentary background, and in this film he stuck to his roots, allowing DeNiro the freedom to become his character as he filmed him with minimal interference. The result is a brilliant American film that mixes French New Wave shots with Wellesian angles and carefully structured sets with improvisational acting.
The cast is terrific at maintaining natural performances that ground this film in the True New York, not the traditional Hollywood New York with dance numbers and horse carriages. The images the audience sees support this realism by showing the dirty, dangerous side of the city, rather than glamorous tourist attractions. When we see Travis Bickle complain to a political candidate riding in his cab about all the scum on the streets, we know exactly what he is referring to, because by then we have already been dragged down into his world.
Is Bickle a traumatized war vet, or a born psychopath? Does he hate people in general, or does he simply not have any concept of how to connect to others? So many questions arise from our examination of this character, and thus Scorsese prods us all to reflect on society itself, and our own place in it. Do we all have a little Travis Bickle in us? Since this film came out, we have certainly seen our share of ordinary people reenact Bickle's final shoot out with the gangsters. Except in the real world, the targets are usually family members, classmates and co-workers.
This is a remarkable essay on violent behavior and a milestone in the American movement away from the Hollywood studio machine towards the modern Hollywood, where uber-directors like Spielberg, Tarantino and Cameron run the show. With all those different ways to approach a viewing of Taxi Driver, I would recommend it for any person who really loves movies because above everything else, that's what Scorsese is really about.