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Taxi Driver (1976) is director Martin Scorsese’s and screenwriter Paul Schrader’s gritty, disturbing, nightmarish modern film classic, that examines alienation in urban society. Scorsese’s fourth film, combining elements of film noir , the western, horror and urban melodrama film genres. Historically, the film appeared after a decade of war in Vietnam, and after the disgraceful Watergate crisis and President Nixon’s resignation.
It explores the psychological madness within an obsessed, twisted, inarticulate, lonely, anti-hero cab driver and war vet (De Niro), who misdirectedly lashes out with frustrated anger and power like an exploding time bomb at the world that has alienated him. His assaultive unhinging is first paired with a longing to connect with a blonde goddess office worker (Shepherd), and then with an attempt to rescue/liberate a young 12-year old prostitute named Iris (Foster) from her predatory pimp "Sport" (Keitel) and her tawdry, streetwalking life. [Note: The young Foster, who had previously acted for Scorsese in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974) , was required to undergo psychological tests to see if she could bear up during filming.]
Taxi Driver has been acknowledged as consciously influenced by John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) – the story of another angry war veteran and social outcast who becomes obsessed during a search and rescue of his young niece from a long-haired Comanche chief named Scar. Ford’s film was about a fanatical quest to liberate the young girl, restore her virtue, and return her to society, in order to purify the searcher’s own soul, although he remains an outsider.
Taxi Driver re-established the tremendous acting ability of Robert De Niro to totally immerse himself into his characters. (This was his second film for Scorsese following Mean Streets (1973) , in which both De Niro and Harvey Keitel gained fame as young New York hoods. It led to their further collaboration in Raging Bull (1980) ). His character was described by one of the poster’s taglines:
On every street there’s a nobody who dreams of being a somebody. He’s a lonely forgotten man desperate to prove that he’s alive.
De Niro’s performance is utterly compelling and fascinating to watch as the ‘taxi driver’- as the unlikely knight redemptively prepares to "wash all this scum off the streets" after a failed and misguided date with a blonde political worker and his stalking of political candidate Charles Palantine. His target-practice ‘You talkin’ to me?’ monologue before a mirror remains one of the best known sequences in film history. The film also propelled its director, screenwriter, and others of its stars into future careers – Jodie Foster (as actress and director) and Cybill Shepherd (as popular TV star).
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