30 Movies in 30 Days: Taxi Driver

Had I seen it before: No. I know, it’s embarrassing but that’s part of the point of this project.

Year: 1976

Director: Martin Scorsese

Writer: Paul Schrader

Where you can stream it now: Netflix or The Criterion Channel.

What IMDb says: A mentally unstable veteran works as a nighttime taxi driver in New York City, where the perceived decadence and sleaze fuels his urge for violent action by attempting to liberate a presidential campaign worker and an underage prostitute.

Why I picked it: There’s a lot of movies I should have seen by now, hence the drastically underserved series on this very blog, Movies I Should Have Seen By Now. I really wanted to make sure I was tackling such movies in this 30 days. Interest in Taxi Driver got slightly reenergized this past year as many compared Todd Phillips’s Oscar-nominated Joker to it. Having seen Joker in an attempt to get to all the Oscar films, it made me that much more curious to see the classic that inspired it.

What I liked: I love how Taxi Driver seamlessly blends the slice-of-life feel of it’s earlier scenes with the heightened drama of its later scenes. Anymore, it’s all too common for films to feel like they have to rush to the point. And as someone who’s at least dabbled in screenwriting and read about its art and craft, there are many who advocate for this “get to the point” philosophy. But Taxi Driver is the kind of movie that reminds you how wonderful stories can be when they gradually arrive at the point. The scenes of Travis just seeming like a regular dude are essential. The hints of what he’ll eventually become are there, but not heavy handed.

The movie also does a fairly good job of balancing story and spectacle. The graphic depictions of violence are there, but never feel gratuitous. We get violence when it makes sense for violence to happen. We get enough mundane scenes about being a taxi driver that the violence of later scenes actually means something. We’re not jaded to it within the first half hour. Again, this is something I wish more modern filmmakers would take note of.

What I didn’t like: I realize that I have really, really high standards for protagonists in movies that don’t really focus much on developing characters outside of their protagonist. But I wish there was just.. more to Travis. He’s not likable or charismatic nor is he supposed to be and that’s fine. But when I ask myself if I really find myself intrigued or wanting to learn more…. I just don’t. The movie never really got me to the point where I was just dying to see what Travis would do next. I feel like outside of his affinity for violence and distaste for New York’s rougher parts, I don’t really know anything about this guy, or at least nothing that’s interesting enough for me to want to know more.

Now, to be clear, the fact that Travis is a reclusive loner is kind of the whole damn point. It’s hard to imagine this movie being what it is without that. But the story doesn’t really have any interest in building up other characters or relationships, which kind of makes sense given that Travis isn’t the type to form a ton of emotionally intimate relationships with others. And for that reason, the part of me that had trouble connecting to the only character that was fairly developed meant I had trouble connecting with the whole movie.

Will I watch it again: I doubt it. It’s good, but doesn’t seem like it would be super rewatchable.

Who would enjoy it: People who love dark and gritty stories, and especially people who want these kinds of stories without copious amounts of violence. (Though there is still some violence.

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