Though John Hinckley, Jr. famously dedicated his Ronald Reagan assassination attempt to Jodie Foster, he wasn't the only one to identify with Travis Bickle, the unhinged sociopath played by Robert De Niro in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver. What makes the film so alluring and powerful is that there's a little bit of Bickle in everyone, at least in the sense that loneliness is part of the human condition, especially in a city that's indifferent by nature to the millions that inhabit it. Scorsese and his screenwriter, Paul Schrader, are unsparing in their treatment of Bickle, who's presented as a racist and a moral hypocrite who lacks even the most basic comprehension of his fellow man, let alone empathy or compassion. And yet Scorsese's seductive, dreamlike imagery and Schrader's voiceover narration draw the audience into Bickle's head and reveal the world through his eyes, which see only ugliness and filth.
It took Schrader less than a week to write Taxi Driver—he's said the script emerged from him "like an animal"— and the film has the raw quality of an especially purposeful first draft. Bottling that volatility in his wiry frame and the bleary, searching eyes reflected in the rear-view mirror, De Niro plays Bickle as a ticking time bomb who finds ways to feed his hateful impression of the "animals" on the street. He tries to salve his loneliness and pain by courting a pretty campaign worker (Cybill Shepherd), but when she rebuffs him, his obsessive mind goes to a very dark place. He first tries to assassinate a political candidate, but later turns his attention to liberating Foster, an underage prostitute.
One of Taxi Driver's richest ironies is that Bickle winds up turning his guns on pimps and sleazemongers rather than a political candidate; he's headed toward a bloody catharsis the entire film, and his "heroic" act of violence is merely an accident of timing. He wants to "wipe all the scum off the streets," but he's seeing the streets through scum-covered glasses—or, rather, the hellish inferno whipped up by Bernard Herrmann's final, unforgettable score and the vibrant, saturated colors of cinematographer Michael Chapman. Taxi Driver makes his myopia ours, and turns us into prisoners of an alienated conscience.
Key features: Separate commentary tracks by Schrader and professor Robert Kolker, author of the fine book A Cinema Of Loneliness. Schrader and Kolker pop up again on disc two, along with extensive reflections from Scorsese, a short documentary, a look at the NYC locations then and now, and more.