Travis Bickle (played by Robert De Niro) is an ex-Marine and Vietnam War veteran living in New York City. He’s a loner and since his return from Vietnam he’s become an insomniac, so he takes a job as a taxi driver, thinking he might as well be earning money to be awake all night. As he cruises the city streets all he sees around him is how the world (particulary New York) has declined into ugliness and before him is a parade of scum, what he views as the dregs of citylife and all types of degradation. During the day he goes to seedy porn cinemas to pass the time. Brightness enters his world when he sees the beautiful Betsy (by Cybill Shepherd), a campaign worker for presidential nominee Senator Charles Palatine (by Leonard Harris). Travis becomes obsessed with her after his attempts to woo her fail when he takes her to a porn movie for their first date. He also spots Iris (by Jodie Foster) a very young runaway who is now a street prostitute working for Sport (by Harvey Keitel). Travis feels he needs to rid the world of all its ugliness to make it a safe place for all, particularly these two women. He feels powerless, but is prepared to do whatever it takes to achieve a “cleaner” world, so he forms a plan and builds up himself, his attitude and his armoury so that he can take on the scum that deserve it …
This movie has slow, but deliberate drama. From the moment it begins, Robert De Niro owns the screen and every scene he appears in. The cinematography is carefully and equisitely planned, with score to match, to depict the seething emotions inside Travis and the developing suspense and tension builds within him and he gradually loses his grip on reality. I wanted to see much more of Jodie Foster’s Iris, she was superb. I also would have enjoyed more of Harvey Keitel’s Sport, but this movie was focussed on Bickle – and rightly so. Facial expressions, non-verbal communication in gestures, observations and scenarios are beautifully done and, although this is an early example, the viewer can clearly see Scorcese’s masterful directing at work here. In 1977, De Niro was nominated for an Academy Award (Oscar) as the Best Actor in a Leading Role for his performance as Travis Bickle, Jodie Foster achieved a nomination as Best Actress in Supporting Role (and she is marvellously authentic for such a young actress) and the movie itself was nominated with Best Music Score and Best Picture. As an aside, it was beaten by “Rocky”, with other nominees being “All the President’s Men”, “Network” and “Bound for Glory” – all stunning and challenging contenders.
Warning: the film does contain some graphic violence and some could be offended by its depiction of the planning and conduct of these scenes.
Made in 1976. Directed by Martin Scorcese