Sunday, June 19, 2011

Film Review: Taxi Driver

OK, its an interesting character study of societal outcast and his ongoing mental breakdown, but the film seems highly over-rated due to the director's name and the associated cast.

The Bernard Herrmann score was my favorite part of the film followed closely by the film's imagery--from the cabs coming through the steam and smoke of NYC to the seediness of old school Times Square the film feels as if its placed in a near post-apocalyptic future.

Combine the ever present filth of Scorsese's NYC (decidedly NOT the NYC of Woody Allen's films of the same period) with the slow build of Travis Bickle's derangement and you've got an iconic piece of cinema worth viewing numerous times and dissecting a number of ways.

I however came away focused on the areas I felt the film either lacked or went in a strange direction on.

First is its blatant racism.  Whether reflecting the mores of the time or not, Taxi Driver comes off as a decidedly aged film in terms of how it treats African Americans.  Filmed as drug users, prostitutes, pimps (Sport--Harvey Keitel's character was also supposed to be a black pimp but later changed, not that it took away anything from the character's "blackness" by having a white man play the character) or other degenerates and called "niggers" "spooks" and a host of other racist terms.  The camera and action portrays blacks as the lowest of the low and when Travis talks of a coming rain in which he hopes all the filth will be washed away it's clear that this filth includes blacks.

Now, I'm not saying that Scorsese is racist, or that the story promotes racism--only that the films POV--Travis's is a racist one and that all of NYC and its characters are viewed herein, through that prism.  This film would NEVER see the light of day in its original form, today.  It would be considered far too controversial as critics and producers would remove the film's racist viewpoint entirely.

In terms of what it lacked?  In my opinion, Travis lacked a real motive for his attempted assassination of Senator Palantine.  Was he angry at Betsy for rejecting his awkward and inept advances?  Certainly.  But to take out this frustration on Palantine just didn't make sense to me.  First off, Bickle's in cab conversation with Palantine went well from Bickle's perspective and Palantine actually gave an ear to his complaints--something virtually no one else in the city would have bothered spending the time to do.  Additionally, killing Palantine does not serve any of Bickle's misguided aims.  The elimination of Palantine does not "clean" the city as the killing of Sport, Jodi Foster's John or the Hotel Manager does.  Bickle's rage is directed towards Betsy--not towards those surrounding her.  If Bickle had attempted or completed the killing of Betsy, it would have been in like with his thinking and rage.  A misguided political assassination in order to indirectly get back at Betsy just doesn't fit.

So a deep and key film of the 20th century this certainly is.  It just does contain some "blemishes" that others may not remark upon in their heaping praise upon one of the modern masters.

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