Robert De Niro’s legendary performance of Travis Bickle is what makes Taxi Driver as good as it is. The performance is unparallel to anything he or anyone else has ever done, and it’s done so powerfully and truthfully that in some aspects we feel we can relate to this odd character. Prior to filming, De Niro worked as a taxi driver and studied mental illness in preparation for the role, and if that isn’t a sign of dedication to acting then I don’t know what it. In more recent years, De Niro has had a hit and miss collection of films mainly but no matter what he’ll never be forgotten for his portrayal of this tortured, lonely and macabre Vietnam war veteran.
Martin Scorsese’s direction is also as fierce as it has ever been and is likely to ever be again. Just simply through the camera angles he uses, particularly in the scene where Travis Bickle seeks redemption from Betsy after their bad date. The camera gently moves along the corridor and then just stops. Just for that brief moment, we feel Bickle’s pain and love even without seeing anything other than two walls and a closed door.
One of the most recognisable parts of the film is the famous “You Talking To Me?” sequence is also of the strongest parts. Just those four words et us in on the future of the film, with only those subtle four words. Subtleness is a common theme in Scorsese’s heart-breaking masterpiece that is Taxi Driver.
The screenplay especially is nothing but incredible. The funny thing is that it’s so thin and seemingly undercalculated, but it also says so much as the same time that is speaks out to it’s audience in the most unlikely way possible.
Now, that conclusion. That conclusion is brilliant. It’s sort of a three part sequence. The usual shootout, which is done in terrifying fashion and it also appears that there’s a more dormant and dark feel to the whole scene. Then it moves on to the letter. Now, this is where it gets really good. It’s often criticised but also praised for not having a definitive answer or meaning to it. It’s either a fantasy of Bickle’s or it’s actual reality and as simple as that may seem, it’s not. There are parts in the film when you’re damn sure it’s reality, but then there are the most unspecific details that persuade you over the dream part of the argument. The third part features Betsy in Travis’ taxi and this is the exact part that I mean. With all the recognition apparently showered on Bickle by the news and the locals, it could be believed that this is reality and Betsy has seen that Travis has a thicker heart to save young prostitutes from an inevitable death rather than to take girls out on dates to see porno flicks.
But in all truth, it doesn’t matter what the actual ending is. It’s part of the film’s mystery and it’s darkness and we all know by now that Scorsese’s pictures aren’t out to have a definitive meaning but to be ambigious and keep the audience thinking. A similar device in utilised in the latter pairing of De Niro and Scorsese in the 1983 The King of Comedy.