To mark the 35th anniversary of this iconic piece of film history, Taxi Driver has been re-released with a full makeover; a full 4k digital restoration with no cracks or wobbles in sight. It deserves nothing less.
De Niro plays Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle (one of the great character names of the 20th century), a misfit loner on the edge of society. Taking a job as a taxi driver, Bickle’s insomniac night drives around a seedy neon-lit New York City are among the most recognisable in film history, as is Herrmann’s bluesy accompanying saxophone score. Bickle’s unstable personality punctuates each scene. His perception of New York as a sleazy, vice filled slum feeds his righteous anger yet he indulges in the very thing he despises, like being partial to the odd late night porn flick at one of the city’s seedy cinemas. By taking his respectable girlfriend Betsy (Shepherd) out on a date to one of these, highlights just how removed Bickle really is from society and its conventions.
Always on the edge of crazy, not knowing when he’s going to snap gives the film its power and the “You talkin’ to me?” mirror scene is as ominous today as it was back then. De Niro’s powerful portrayal as Bickle captures the complexities of this anti-hero and his walk along the fine line between good and evil. Though the clothes and hairstyles are circa 1976, Bickle’s character surpasses the bounds of time and place. Taxi Driver could be seen as a social comment on the challenges facing veterans returning to civilian life – albeit via the unreliable mind of Bickle – that has relevance today. He might be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or he could have been unstable before he became a marine. Either way he’s a weapon without aim or orders. Seeking his own redemption Bickle decides that the Big Apple is long overdue for a clean-up and finds a cause in 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Foster). It could go either way but one thing is in no doubt; there will be blood.
It’s hard not to watch it without reflecting on how young they all look and what they each went on to achieve. Foster’s assured and mature performance as Iris has its own uncomfortable resonance, in no small part down to our knowledge of her post-Taxi Driver stalker nightmare. We now watch the film with 21st century eyes and this only reaffirms the film’s magnitude. Brighter, crisper and nicely honed, this is a great opportunity to see an iconic piece of cinema at its sparking best. Don’t miss it.