taxi-driver-mar-8th35 years since its first release, Taxi Driver is a pitch perfect example of 1970s American film making. Robert De Niro, in a career defining role as the psychotic insomniac Vietnam veteran, Travis Bickle, is mesmerising as he misguidedly seeks to clean up the streets of New York. A loner who cannot communicate with others or form relationships, he first tries to date a political activist Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) and later becomes obsessed with underage prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster), with terrible consequences. “It’s a film that stays in your bloodstream” – Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian. (Cert 18)
Dir: Martin Scorsese 109 mins USA 1976

Programme Notes

Taxi Driver
USA 1976 109 minutes Cert. 18

“One day a rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets” – Travis Bickle

Throughout the history of cinema’s encounters with the dark side of the American psyche, there has never been anyone quite like Travis Bickle. And yet Travis is an everyman, a nobody; we meet people with similar backgrounds and similar views all the time. He’s a former Vietnam veteran, honourably discharged, bearing scars of the sort polite people don’t ask about. He’s out of work, he can’t sleep, so he spends his days in porn cinemas and takes up a job as a night-time taxi driver. This brings him into contact with the city at its ugliest. It’s New York, and it’s every city, Scorsese has said. Travis is seething with prejudice and paranoia. The city feeds his fury – something is growing inside him, something dangerous.

In many ways Taxi Driver is the last of the great films noir, crossing over into cinéma verité without sacrificing either style or tone. Perhaps Travis is a fall guy looking for a femme fatale but Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), the object of his desires, is revolted by his bleak existence. Hers is a world of hope, of joyous optimism, as she campaigns passionately for would-be senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Here is a Kennedy figure, an icon of the American Dream, a figure who almost reaches Travis too but not quite – and when he can’t fulfil his promise, again that anger grows. Enter Iris (Jodie Foster), whose life as a prostitute makes her the perfect icon of helplessness, whose youth (she is only ten) makes it easy for Travis to project onto her pretty much anything he likes. Obsessed with saving her, he gradually loses sight of everything else, including himself.

This is an extraordinary film in which de Niro, in the central role, delivers a career-defining performance of extra-ordinary power and urgency. Travis is somebody we know, he has always been here – it’s impossible to wake up and imagine a world before this happened. The rest of the film is spot on, too. In places the cinematography uses only natural light; we’re soaked in the darkness of this world, ever alert to possible danger, shifts of mood – like Travis cautiously watching his rear view mirror. At times we’re not quite sure what is or isn’t real, sharing the heady experience of prolonged insomnia. The score hisses, creaks and thunders, catching us by surprise. Like Travis’ moods, able to shift at a moment’s notice. Charming, then terrifying – hope, then desolation.

The supporting cast is superb. Foster excels in the difficult role of Iris (she was 13 years old at the time) and makes her a convincing human being even when seen through Travis’ distorted gaze. Like everybody here, she has her own agenda. Harvey Keitel gets minimal screen time as her brutal pimp Harris but leaves a stark impression. Peter Boyle, as fellow taxi driver Wizard, seems to live and breathe the resentment that only Travis can turn into action.

Winner of the 1976 Cannes Palme d’Or, Taxi Driver is probably the only film that can claim to have inspired the attempted assassination of a president. Whilst that’s hardly something its creators might have been pleased about, it is a measure of its potential effect on the mind. Now carefully restored, it is as relevant as ever. Acknowledgements: Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film

Travis Bickle – Robert de Niro
Betsy – Cybill Shepherd
Iris – Jodie Foster
‘Sport’ Matthew – Harvey Keitel
Wizard – Peter Boyle

Director – Martin Scorsese
Producers – Julia Phillips, Michael Phillips, Phillip M Goldfarb
Screenplay – Paul Schrader
Cinematography – Michael Chapman
Original Music – Bernard Herrmann, David Blume


“A real classic! Great musical score.”

“The music was a strength.”

“Fully deserving of its cult status!”

“Stylish and atmospheric. Great shooting in every sense of the word and done to great music. Surely de Niro’s last good performance. Jody Foster brilliantly credible and good to see Harvey K. being Harvey K. So much better than Drive …”

“An excellent tour-de-force with its eclectic mixture of jazz music, Chandleresque voice-over and an array of well developed supporting characters.”

“Great music and the night scenes were superb. A drama of dead-end lives.”

“I used to live in a bed-sit and can kind of identify with Travis! Excellent film of its time and yet timeless.”

“Loved the atmospheric shots of New York. de Niro’s self-conscious method acting was a bit distracting but Foster and Keitel were stunning. Could have done without the bloodbath at the end but I guess that was restrained compared to what later became the norm!”

“A good film but very much of its era.”

“Interesting camera work”

“Very much of the period. Good entertainment – as long as you didn’t mind all the blood!”

“Good film for its time but lacking a bit of present-day reality and somewhat reminiscent of 1970s cowboy films!”

“Has not aged well after 35 years. Now seems rather disconnected but the soundtrack music was A+!”

“Good, I suppose but I hated all that violence and sleazy characters.”

“An extremely depressing film”

“It’s true – the blood was not as red as it should have been.”


A:22, B:13, C:2, D:0, E:0 to give 89%