Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver (1975)
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Cast: Robert DeNiro, Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel
Extras: “Making Of” Documentary, Screenplay, Advertising Materials, Liner Notes, Theatrical Trailer, Production Notes and Biographies

"Taxi Driver" has radically changed Robert DeNiro’s career back in 1976, establishing him as a first class character actor. The reason is blatantly obvious to everyone watching this powerful film by director Martin Scorcese, which sent DeNiro into the ranks of super stardom. 23 years after its original release, "Taxi Driver" still ranks as one of the best films of all times, and it heralded Scorcese’s triumphant conquest of Hollywood. It is hardly surprising that Columbia Home Video decided to release the film in its restored version from 1996 on DVD, together with a number of stunning supplements, to satisfy the demand for one of the hardest hitting films of the 70s.

Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is a Vietnam veteran who can’t sleep at night as a result of his war trauma. To pass the time he takes on a job as a cab driver in New York, covering some of the darkest suburbs and areas the city has to offer. He is lonely and incapable of social contact. Every one of his attempts to mingle with people ends in another disappointment. He takes out Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) a young election campaign worker, and invites her to a porn movie on their first night out. Her terror is beyond his grasp, and his attempt to suck up to a politician leaves the man completely suspicious. Travis is entirely unable to communicate with society and is left to himself. He is sickened by the scum he sees on the streets everyday from his cab, and his inner fury is growing on a daily basis. The only person he ends up talking to, is himself in the mirror. But even that conversation is reduced to paraphrases like ‘You talkin’ to me? Well, I’m the only one here’.

With growing disgust Travis feels he needs to change things for the better. Since politicians fail to clean up the city, someone else has to do it. When he meets 12 year old streethooker Iris (Jodie Foster), his entire world starts to revolve around the thought of liberating her from her pimp and her destiny in the gutters. With a seemingly new found identity and a combat-cut he returns to the streets armed to the eyeballs, and brings about a retaliating massacre.

No other actor has ever played a removed anti-social anti-hero, and his fight against urban decadence and his own dark personality as powerful as Robert DeNiro did in "Taxi Driver". His accumulated frustration is relieving itself in almost liberating violence that is beyond ordinary people’s comprehension. Masterfully combined with director Scorcese’s visual language and cinematographer Michael Chapman’s photography, Bickle and his yellow taxi have become synonymous with loneliness, desperation and the search for identity.

"Taxi Driver" already shows Scorcese’s unique directing style. Like most of his films, it develops rather slowly, giving the viewer time to elaborate on what he is seeing. Slowly the narrative builds and gears towards an inevitable climax, but still, it keeps building slowly, yet consistently. When the film finally reaches its peak in the shootout, we know that Travis has made his point, although the execution is rather dubious and obviously not to be recommended. It is exactly the kind of exaggerated action you’d expect from an emotionally crippled person in that situation, and although he tries to do good, he does so in an inexcusable, almost mob-like, manner. Like in most of Scorcese’s film his characters are dark, but never eternally black. They hate themselves and know they are doomed. Still they can become heroes in their own worlds, which makes their lives tolerable. It also bears the problem that the film’s final resolution might not be a satisfying one on an emotional level. This is certainly why Scorcese included an ending sequence to the film that shows us Travis Bickle as a hero instead of a freak. Whether the ending is true or just a delirious illusion of the dying Travis remains open for discussion.

This Special Edition of "Taxi Driver" from Columbia Home Video contains the film’s restored print that is very clean for the most part. The movie is presented in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> <$PS,widescreen> transfer that restores the film’s original aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1. The transfer on this DVD is sharp and reproduces the pictures with a high level of detail. The transfer is well balanced with strong colors, good highlights and deep shadows. Film grain is evident in a number of scenes, which is a result of the film stock that was used to shoot the film originally, but it is never obtrusive or exaggerated. The movie is well compressed without noticeable artifacts or <$pixelation,pixelation>. Colors are vivid and faithfully reproduced without <$chroma,chroma noise> or bleeding, even in the murky nighttime shots

The disc also contains the film’s restore audio track from 1996 which presents the movie in stereo. Originally a monaural soundtrack served the film, but with its major restoration for its 20th anniversary in 1996, the filmmakers decided to opt for a new stereo mix that gave the film a slightly better directional dimension. The soundtrack itself is very good and clean, without any noise. Although it sounds a bit muffled and flat at times, it never sounds dated. Since the technical – and pecuniary – limitations of the time prevented filmmakers from creating soundtrack that cover the sonic spectrum of today’s releases, I am sure, the presentation on this disc is the best possible. "Taxi Driver" comes in its original English language and features selectable subtitles in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Korean and Thai.

"Taxi Driver" contains a large number of high quality extras, like a "Making Of" documentary, photo gallery, filmographies and liner notes. It also contains the film’s complete script and allows the viewer to jump to the according scenes in the film. Much to our delight, Columbia decided to implement this feature so it can be used on any DVD Video player, unlike other publishers’ solutions that require DVD-ROM capabilities. Screenplays are a supplement for the people who love and care for the movie, and I think it is fair to say that these people tend to watch movies in the confines of their living rooms or home theaters and not on their desktop computers.
Hopefully other publishers will take note of this feature and make it part of their own repertoire in the way Columbia has here.

Scorcese’s films are always very character driven and leave action out of the picture for the most part. "Taxi Driver" is the perfect example for this. Although the film shows the most gruesome carnage of all his films, it is a slowly developing film that makes the character development the main focus and gives viewers time to explore the psyche of the character we are observing. As a result their actions take on a much stronger meaning and make a definitive statement within the film’s context. This is Scorcese’s masterpiece and this splendid release from Columbia gives us the opportunity to explore the world of Travis Bickle in all its disgusting glory. It is a release that must not be missed!