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Sony / 114 Minutes / 1976 / Rated R / Street Date: April 5, 2011
There are arguments that Taxi Driver is the postmodern cinematic equivalent of The Catcher in the Rye, and while that's clearly an oversimplification, I feel like there's something to it. I've watched and rewatched Taxi Driver probably ten times in my life, and even though I'm not exceptionally enraptured by it - I like it, but don't love it - its iconic status as one of a very few films that encapsulates the rigors and turmoil of youth in society is secure.
Taxi Driver is violent, harrowing and almost schizophrenic in its passionate bravura. To watch Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) slowly go insane over the course of the movie (or was he insane at the get-go?) is an inimitable journey, one of director Martin Scorsese's most experimental and successful endeavors. We see Bickle fall in love (with the dreamy Cybill Shepherd), help out a 12-year-old hooker with a heart of gold (Jodie Foster), and retreat into the rugged terrain of his own warped mind - Scorsese and screenwriter Paul Schrader want to hold up every element of Bickle's story for all to experience in full.
Yet for as accomplished and tonally fascinating as Taxi Driver is, I'd argue that part of its continued draw is its volatility (some might say inconsistency). It's a one-of-a-kind movie, to be sure, but there's a folly to Taxi Driver that makes it hard to take seriously. Perhaps this is the point of the film - its fever-dream quasi-narrative is, if anything, open to a wide berth of potential interpretation - but what really got to me in watching this new Blu-ray edition of the film is how powerfully uneven Taxi Driver is. When it hits, it hits hard; when it misses, it's almost cartoonish.
But love or hate aside, Taxi Driver's importance as one of the more pivotal pieces of 1970s filmmaking is irrefutable. It's a movie with wild appeal - it's not common to see a Taxi Driver poster on college dorm walls any more, but I bet every big university still has one or two - and while any argument legitimizing Taxi Driver as Salinger-esque might be going a little far, what's certain is that Taxi Driver is a big beluga of a motion picture. Ignore it - and its lessons - at your own peril.