Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Taxi Driver

The 2011 New Zealand International Film Festival begins…

After months of contemporary film reviewing, it’s interesting to step back in time to 1976, get settled in the glory of Auckland’s Civic Theatre, and take in one of Martin Scorsese’s early masterpieces.

Taxi Driver is so well known it surely needs no plot description, and Robert De Niro no introduction.  If you don’t know the seminal “You talkin’ to me?” scene, then you’re probably not racing through the rain to experience this on the big screen.  But if you are, rest assured it’s worth the effort to pre-book.

The pleasures are endless.  Then 14 year-old Jodie Foster really does hold her own against De Niro’s disenchanted ex-marine, showing an astonishing maturity that manages to convey warmth and a preternatural understanding of what makes him tick.  We can see what attracts Travis Bickle to the beguiling Cybill Shepherd (and can’t help but chuckle at the innocent reference to “moonlighting” that of course pre-dates her involvement in that 80s TV show).

The grainy video photography of the grimy nighttime city is splendid.  There is curious use of overhead shots and the occasional tracking shot that feels like a precursor to Goodfellas, as well as slow close-ups echoed more recently in the likes of the superb Animal Kingdom .  Scorsese himself appears in two cameos, and Harvey Keitel (his break-out role in Mean Streets only three years prior) introduces us to his long career in sleazy characters. 

Travis is at the same time a protoype for disaffected, angry young men in film and literature everywhere, and the inspiration for real-life assassins such as John Hinckley Jr. who stalked Jodie Foster before attempting to kill President Reagan.  It’s interesting to watch Travis’s realistically portrayed trajectory from being perfectly charming, if a little intense, in his pursuit of Betsy, to arming himself with weapons suited to any occasion.

It’s not often we get the privilege of seeing such classics in their optimum environment, and Taxi Driver is an exhilarating watch.

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