The Film That Got Away: Taxi Driver

By Christian DiMartino

Title: Taxi Driver

Genre: Thriller, Drama

Release Date: Feb. 8th, 1976

Rating: R

Leads: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel

Writer: Paul Schrader

Director: Martin Scorsese

Is it difficult to believe that Martin Scorsese, the master behind Goodfellas, Raging Bull, and Gangs of New York, did not win an Oscar until 2006 for The Departed (my personal favorite of his)? Believe it or not, it is true. The academy did not send Scorsese home with the gold for decades, becoming a victim of what I like to call “Oscar Crimes.” Though many Oscar crimes have existed in the past, none are quite as surprising as this. In fact, Scorsese’s Oscar Crime history dates all the way back to his breakthrough, the 1976 masterpiece Taxi Driver.

Sure, prior to Taxi Driver, Scorsese directed Mean Streets and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, both of which were very well received. In the end though, it was Taxi Driver that put him on the radar. Why? Well, it is his first masterpiece. In fact, it was the first of seven Scorsese’s films to be nominated for Best Picture. It also made an even bigger star out of its leading man, Robert De Niro (who had already won an Oscar for The Godfather Part II). Back in the day, Scorsese and De Niro were a dream team, and this is one of their finest accomplishments.

De Niro, who was nominated a second time for this movie, gives one of his finest performances as Travis Bickle, a lonely New York taxi driver who really does not like his city. Night after night, he drives all of these despicable people around, and he is sick of it. So when a crooked politician and a very young prostitute named Iris (Jodie Foster, who was also nominated), Travis decides to take matters into his own hands: he becomes a vigilante.

When watching this movie, the viewer is left to make a decision: Is Travis actually a good guy? In the synopsis above, the so called “crooked politician” is not really a bad guy, but Travis does not agree with him, so he plans to kill him. Scorsese, De Niro and writer Paul Schrader (who later collaborated with Scorsese on another masterpiece, The Last Temptation of Christ, and a few others) brought the ultimate anti-hero to life. Travis is sort of insane, but the audience roots for him… for some reason.

Schrader’s script is at times funny, but most of the time very bizarre. What exactly is the message of the movie? Not entirely sure on that one. With that said, does that always matter? Taxi Driver is simply a very entertaining movie without a particular message. It works well enough without it.

De Niro is amazing here. As mentioned above, Travis is not necessarily a guy we should root for. Here is where De Niro’s magic comes in. He manages to make this guy likable. Do not ask why. It simply has to be seen to believe.

Nearly 40 years have passed since the release of this movie, so in a generation has a new iPod coming out every week, some of the movie looks a bit outdated. The perfect example is the final showdown. Though it is somewhat outdated, it is still a great movie. It is very well written and acted, and consistently entertaining. It is hard to find movies like this now days.

Taxi Driver has aged well and has gone on to become a classic, even though I have not met a single person at FC who has seen it. Which leads to why it is a film that got away. It is this fact, and the fact that some of the films key ingredients went unrecognized. The film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture (the award went to Rocky), De Niro for Actor (the award posthumously went to Peter Finch for Network), Foster for Supporting Actress (did not win) and Score (also did not win). Guess what? The Academy got it all wrong.

If you sat Sylvester Stallone in a room and left him to watch Rocky and Taxi Driver, guaranteed he would tell you Taxi Driver is better (though Rocky is good). De Niro not winning is understandable, considering Finch is amazing and well, how could he beat the dead? Also, where on earth was Scorsese’s and Schrader’s name on that ballot? Both of them were snubbed? What? What sense does that make? This is their movie and they went unaccredited? Ridiculous is what it is.

Taxi Driver is not Scorsese’s best film, but it is one of them, and one of a few that deserved Best Picture. What other ones are on that list? Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The Departed. Though two of those films did not win, I chose to write about this one because this film went home empty handed. Taxi Driver is a strange tale of justice, and justice will not truly be served until it is seen by all.

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