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Blu-ray Review: Taxi Driver: 40th Anniversary Edition

November 9, 2016

By John Corrado


“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”  Delivered partway through Taxi Driver, these words have lingered in my mind since I first saw Martin Scorsese’s iconic 1976 classic, and they are just as haunting and relevant now, especially as the film is celebrating its fortieth anniversary this year.

There are few characters as complex and fascinatingly flawed as Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), a violent and unstable Vietnam war veteran who takes a job as a cab driver in New York, and ends up becoming obsessed with rescuing a young prostitute (Jodie Foster) from the clutches of her pimp (Harvey Keitel).

The film’s political backdrop, with Senator Palentine’s (Leonard Harris) presidential run looming large within the plot, remains equally timely.  Travis Bickle represents a portion of the American population who are disenfranchised and terrified of being forgotten, desperate to leave a mark and reclaim the country they believe is theirs.  There is strange symmetry to the fact that Taxi Driver was first released in an election year in 1976, and is now celebrating its fortieth anniversary in the year that millions of disillusioned Americans elected Donald Trump, champion of the angry white male.

Robert De Niro’s haunting and powerfully understated performance remains a masterclass in simmering tension, with the true depths of his character’s anger and pain slowly revealed as he plots his revenge throughout the film.  That famously improvised scene where he talks to himself in the mirror, despite being quoted and misquoted so much over the years, still resonates with its deafening loneliness.  “You talkin’ to me?”  He asks his reflection, posturing with his guns.  “Well, I’m the only one here.”  The finale explodes with violence, perpetrated by this man who is guided by his own twisted moral code.

This is not only an invaluable portrait of New York in the 1970s, palpably capturing every inch of dirt that existed on those streets, but also one of the defining films of that decade.  Bernard Nerrmann’s great jazz score and Michael Chapman’s grittily mesmerizing cinematography add to the enthralling landscape of the film.  After forty years, Taxi Driver remains just as gripping, disturbing and eerily believable as it ever was, a haunting and brilliantly acted portrait of a lonely man being slowly and irreversibly pushed over the edge in his determination to be noticed and make a difference.  This is undoubtedly one of the greatest films ever made, and everything about it still feels vital.

The two-disc Blu-ray set includes the original 1986 commentary by Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader, another commentary with Paul Schrader and professor Robert Kolker, as well as six featurettes, storyboard to film comparisons and animated photo galleries.  There’s also the 71 minute documentary Making Taxi Driver, and an all-new Q&A with Martin Scorsese and much of the cast that was recorded at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival and is quite enjoyable watch.

Taxi Driver is a Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release.  It’s 114 minutes and rated 18A.

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