I can still recall how slowly the tension built in this movie as we saw Robert De Niro become Travis Bickle, a cab driver who is rapidly sinking into insanity in reaction to all the ugliness he sees every night in his taxi. And back then, the shoot-out at the whorehouse was shockingly bloody and violent. I’d never seen most of a man’s hand blown off by a .44 Magnum before, and I don’t think many others had, either.
New York has never looked so seedy, and ominous. The taxi swims in and out of the steam that continually seeps from the streets of Manhattan, like a big shark. The neon casts a sick light on everything. And then there are the passengers. Martin Scorsese plays one of them, the scariest one, who tells Travis he is going to kill his wife because she is cuckolding him with a nigger. Travis decides to get a gun. Several guns, in fact, four in all, from a little .22 to a damn cannon. His preparations are shown in obsessive detail. And then there he is, transformed into a Mohawk-wearing, stupidly grinning, really scary dude who is about to assassinate a presidential candidate …
… only he doesn’t, which was a big surprise to me. He is spotted, and runs away. Then he focuses his rage on the shithole tenement where 12-year-old Jodie Foster is working. And he survives! And he is acclaimed a hero! And it is only a matter of time until he explodes again! Talk about irony. He was seconds away from being an Arthur Bremer … or, even more creepy since the asshole hadn’t yet done his thing, a John Hinckley. This movie inspired the fuckhead to shoot Reagan, and started his obsession with Jodie Foster.
There has never been a movie quite like this one. Paul Shrader’s script is dazzling, and there is great work by Harvey Keitel, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd, and—I had forgotten about this—Albert Brooks.