Would Martin Scorsese put a hit on me if I said I didn’t like Taxi Driver? ‘Cause he sure looked miffed when he didn’t win the Oscar this year. Maybe I should see if any Academy members have recently had their kneecaps broken before I proceed, because never in my life have I heard anyone say anything negative about Taxi Driver EVER. It’s such an iconic movie, how could it not be amazing? I like Robert DeNiro. I like Jodie Foster. I have the utmost respect for Martin Scorsese. I really did not enjoy Taxi Driver.
It is sooo slooow. Watching Taxi Driver is a lot like watching a ticking time bomb. It makes you nervous, and you know that sooner or later there will be an explosion, but in the meantime, you’re just sitting there, watching the second hand go tick, tick, tick. Most of the movie feels like it takes place in real time, and for awhile there, I was afraid it simply was not going to end. I will grow old and grey on this couch, I thought, and Robert DeNiro will just keep driving his taxi.
Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a disturbed man who rarely sleeps, gets headaches from the sights and smells of New York City, and puts booze on his morning cereal. He drives a taxi at night, since he can’t sleep anyway, and becomes increasingly disgusted with the world he lives in. What he fails to see, as he makes commentary on the filth around him, is that he is part of it.
Things look up temporarily when he meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd). Despite his creepy advances, she agrees to go out with him, but he blows the second date. He invites her to a movie, but neglects to mention that he only goes to adult films. When she becomes offended and tries to leave, he claims that he doesn’t know that much about movies and didn’t realize he was taking her to the wrong kind. Um, yeah. I’m so glad I never watched Taxi Driver when I worked in a video store, because I think there were about ten Travis Bickles who frequented our back room. I did not need this added insight into their lives.
Travis’s craziness escalates after the Betsy incident. He acquires a small arsenal, and builds his body to top form. There are several moments when it seems that he is going to snap and kill someone, but it doesn’t happen until he finds himself in a convenience store during a robbery. Miraculously, this psycho shoots the armed robber, and saves the store clerk.
Travis then becomes fixated on Iris (Jodie Foster), a twelve-and-a-half-year-old prostitute. In a misguided effort to save her, he storms into an apartment building (finally some action!) and takes out her pimp (hey look, it’s Harvey Keitel!) and everyone else who stands in his way. Somehow, his efforts succeed, and through what can only be considered dumb luck, he is touted as a hero. Is this thought provoking? Yes. Were the 113 minutes it took to reach this conclusion worth it? Not really.
I have nothing against a slowly paced film, but do we really need all those scenes with Peter Boyle and the other cabbie chatting while Travis drinks coffee in the corner? Usually if you place a great actor in something like this (and I consider Robert DeNiro great) you’ll at least wind up with an interesting character study. But Travis Bickle is such a hard nut to crack that it’s hard to empathize with him or really care what he’s got up his sleeve.
To the film’s credit, there are some amusing bits, like the father’s day/anniversary/birthday card Travis sends to his parents, or the time he gives Henry Krinkle “K-R-I-N-K-L-E” as a false name, but they are few and far between. His journal entries contain such morose gems as “I think I have stomach cancer”, and reminded me of The Catcher in the Rye. Unfortunately, Travis Bickle lacks the self-awareness and self-deprecating sense of humor that make Holden Caulfield so easy to relate to, and his anecdotes are more likely to induce cringing than laughter.
This may be the last you hear from me before I get picked off, but somebody had to be the one to say that Taxi Driver just may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Martin, Robert, if you’re out there, I just want to say that Cape Fear was AWESOME. Now please don’t kill me.