Friday, March 16, 2018

Another movie that left me cold: Taxi Driver

Every now and then, I watch a movie that's generally considered a classic but for which I feel little affinity. Another example of this would be Taxi Driver.

Robert De Niro plays Travis Bickle, a Vietnam vet now living in the New York City of the era when Gerald Ford told the city to drop dead, and working as a taxi driver. Bickle was left broken by his experiences in Vietnam, as he has difficulty socializing and dealing with the crime and social degradation in the city. He meets Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who is working for the presidential campaign of Senator Palantine. He falls in love with her, but the feeling is obviously unrequited because of Travis' boorish treatment of her.

Driving a cab in the overnight hours also brings Travis in contact with some of the seedier parts of the city, notably the prostitutes. Eventually he sees one named Iris (Jodie Foster) and decides he's going to be nice to her. Her pimp (Harvey Keitel) doesn't particularly like that. And in general, Travis has decided to take matters in his own hands, which involves buying a whole bunch of guns....

So why didn't I care for Taxi Driver? The obvious first thing to think about is the nature of main character Travis Bickle. He's such an unappealing jerk that I frankly didn't care what happened to him. Indeed, he's probably more of a schumck than the characters in director Martin Scorsese's earlier Mean Streets, which I mentioned here not too long ago also left me cold.

I think a brief comparison of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver is in order. While I didn't like the characters in Mean Streets, I could at least understand the point the movie was trying to make and see how it succeeded in many ways even if I didn't much care for what it was doing. Taxi Driver is even more baffling in that regard. Travis' seeming desire to shoot Palantine at a campaign rally makes no sense, which I could also say for the scene involving Travis taking a fare who is stalking his cheating wife. And the movie pretty much turns on a dime to start dealing with the prostitution angle.

Perhaps Taxi Driver was intended more as a character study. In that light it does do better, I think, than as straight storytelling. But I still found it slow, plodding, and meandering.

Everybody else says Taxi Driver is one of the great American movies, however, so you're probably going to have to watch and judge for yourself.

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