Taxi Driver – Blu-ray Review

Michael Chapman, the cinematographer on Taxi Driver, said that “Whatever else Taxi Driver is or isn‘t, it is a kind of documentary of what New York looked like in 1975,” and this is a very true statement, as the film stunningly portrays the city, and all it had to offer, both good and bad, during that time. On the plus side, the film also succeeds in everything else it sets out to accomplish, especially in telling a haunting story of a man, the lonely life he leads, and the impact that life has on both him, and those who cross his path.

Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) is an ex-marine and Vietnam war veteran who has trouble sleeping, and because of this, finds it easier to work long shifts, as often as he can. At the start of the film we find Travis at a taxi garage applying to become a driver. By working the night shift, and taking fares to any place in the city, regardless of how dangerous some may think they are, Travis gets the job, and quickly finds himself patrolling the streets of the lively city. It’s during these long nights that Travis witnesses first-hand the type of people who fill the city streets once the sun goes down, referring to them all as animals. As the rain washes his car while he drives, he tells himself that “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

We get inside Travis’ head through a voice-over technique where we listen to what he’s writing in his diary each day. As the film goes on, we learn more and more just how lonely, and disturbed Travis actually is. He has a problem with relationships, and opening himself up in an ordinary way with people. We see this specifically through his attempt at courtship with Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a young, beautiful worker on the presidential nomination campaign for Senator Charles Palantine (Leonard Harris). Viewing her as one of the few bright spots in the decaying city, Travis asks her out, in a blunt, honest, and somewhat risky way. When she accepts, Travis is quite pleased, but slowly begins to realize that Betsy isn’t who he believed she was, and there may really be no hope for the city at all.

Taxi Driver is a film about loneliness, and the film’s writer, Paul Schrader believes that people who are lonely remain lonely because they choose to be. They keep everyone at an arm’s length, and they put themselves in positions where they know the end result will push anyone who may be getting close to them away. Schrader wrote the film at a particularly dark time in his life, and admits that some of what he writes is semi-autobiographical. The story was transferred to the screen almost just as he wrote it, as director Martin Scorsese, and the film’s producers all fell in love with the way he expressed himself, and felt that was the only way the film would truly work.

Scorsese, who didn’t have any true credentials to his name at the time the film was brought to him, felt that this was a movie he had to make. After lobbying hard to get the job, it was his work with De Niro on his film Mean Streets that finally landed him it. Not believing that Taxi Driver would be a critical, or financial success, Scorsese fought to keep the gritty tone of the film, and felt the work to be a labour of love over something that would make his career. His natural talent behind the camera shines through in this low budget film, as his artistic shots really make this film easy on the eyes, and a pleasure to watch.

Scorsese wasn’t the only one to find work because of the film Mean Streets, as De Niro was also sought after to play the now infamous role of Travis Bickle after producers saw the chemistry he and the director had together. De Niro, who had just come off winning an Academy Award for The Godfather II, absolutely sets the screen on fire with his portrayal of a man slowly slipping into a psychotic trance. While we’ve seen him in many roles since this film, De Niro has the ability to make each of his characters stand out on their own. There’s an innocence he brings to Travis that makes him someone we sympathize with, even if he isn’t a natural protagonist. While there are other actors in the film, this is a vehicle completely driven by the work of De Niro, and it’s no shock as to why it garnered him another Academy Award nomination.

Of course, not to mention some of the other actors and actresses in the film would be wrong. Shepherd does a great job, and is a true Hollywood beauty on the screen. In fact, when looking to cast the role, producers were looking for a Cybill Shepherd type, to which agent Sue Mengers called and asked them, “Why not hire Cybill Shepherd?” Of course, the second acting nomination this film received was for 12 year-old Jodie Foster, who played the prostitute Iris. While a small role, Iris is an integral part of Travis’ journey, the part was sought after by many, but Foster won out in the end. Also of note are performances by Harvey Keitel, Albert Brooks, Peter Boyle and even a cameo by Scorsese himself, as the man in the back of the cab who wants to kill his wife.

Taxi Driver is a piece of art, a documentary of New York circa 1975, and a masterpiece of a film through and through. There’s something about the perfectly paced story that just draws you in, and won’t let you turn away. Slowly, the viewer begins to see the world through the eyes of a man who has lost all hope, and believes it’s up to him to make a change, no matter how the end result is viewed by others.

This is the first time that Taxi Driver has been released on Blu-ray, and as it should be, this is the definitive version. As described on the package, the film received an extensive 4K digital restoration and remastering under the guidance of cinematographer Michael Chapman and director Martin Scorsese. If that doesn’t sell you on just how serious they were in getting it right, then let me, when I say that this film can’t look better. While some frames remain a little fuzzy or grainy, likely due to age and damage, 99.9% of the film, presented in 1.85:1 1080p, looks fantastic. The audio is also great, with the dialogue coming through crisp and clear, and the music setting the exact tone that it wishes to set the entire way through.

Those who are fans of the film likely have the Collector’s Edition DVD version of the film, and if that’s the case, then you have the extras that are being offered here already, with the exception of the Blu-ray Exclusive: Interactive Script to Screen feature, and the 1986 Criterion Collection commentary. Of course, fans of the film will want the best version available, and the studio must be commended for putting all the extras onto this disc as well, and not forcing people to buy both versions in order to get the full package.

BD Exclusive: Interactive Script to Screen – Here we have the ability to view the entire script, as it was written for the screen, while watching the movie itself. While certain pages have been juggled around in order to keep the order of the final product intact, it’s an interesting feature for those who wish to see just how the final vision looks compared to how the written word that first birthed a certain idea comes to be.

Making of Documentary – If I recommend watching any of the extras that this disc has to offer, I’d say to watch this one. It’s over an hour in length, and really covers most of the same ground that the rest of the features cover, while also adding the thoughts of so many more. Keitel and Foster talk about their roles, as does Shepherd, while Scorsese and Schrader cover a lot of the same ground they cover in the smaller features this extras package offers. Really, this is well worth the time in watching, especially to learn the tricks that make-up artist Dick Smith used in order to give the final scene the gritty impact that it had.

Original 1986 Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese and Writer Paul Schrader recorded for The Criterion Collection – There won’t be a better duo than Scorsese and Schrader for fans looking to get internal views on why things were shot they way they were, or why the story was told the way it was.

Commentaries by Writer Paul Schrader and by Professor Robert Kolker – Kolker is the author of “A Cinema of Loneliness,” and his opinions are obviously warranted for a film of this context. There is also a second, lone commentary by Schrader.

Martin Scorsese on Taxi DriverThis feature runs at just under 17 minutes, and is basically a sit-down interview with Scorsese, who talks about the film, how it came to light, how different actors were looked at for the role (such as Dustin Hoffman) before De Niro was finally brought on board, and the many influences that other films had on his career, and the film itself.

Producing Taxi Driver – In this 10 minute feature we have producer Michael Phillips talk about how he and his wife, Julia, helped Taxi Driver see the light of day. It’s interesting to learn that it was the combined effort of everyone involved with the film that helped it get made, as without everyone believing in the project as much as they did, it would have easily been tossed aside in the early stages. The same thing happened with Harry Potter, as many publishers threw the book away, before someone took a chance on what is now one of the biggest series of all-time. Just makes you wonder how often this sort of thing happens, and just how many potential classics have never come to be.

God’s Lonely Man – This feature comes in at just under 22 minutes, and is mainly Paul Schrader talking about his experiences, and what eventually lead him to creating the character of Travis, and the reasoning behind using the taxi driver as the messenger of his story.

Influence and Appreciation: A Tribute to Martin Scorsese – This is an almost 19 minute featurette that sees various people talking about Scorsese, his style, his concepts and pretty much all he does. We hear from his film program classmate, Oliver Stone, as well as Robert De Niro himself, and get some solid insight as to what it is that makes Scorsese the renowned director that he is today.

Taxi Driver Stories – Here’s an almost 23 minute feature that follows a handful of taxi drivers from the ‘70s around, as they tell us some pretty crazy stories that took place during their time behind the wheel. It may seem like fluff, but it’s actually crazy to hear some of what went on, and just how accurate the film’s portrayal of the streets was during that time.

Travis’ New York – Here we have a six minute feature where cinematographer Michael Chapman, and former New York Mayor Edward Koch talk about how New York 1975 was, and how it was represented in the film, and how it has changed since.

Travis’ New York Locations – Here we get a montage of New York 1975 compared to New York 2006, where a camera goes back to nine of the exact locations that were filmed, and compare them to how they’ve changed since the making of the movie. It’s quick, interesting, and worth checking out, just to see how time changes some things more than others.

Storyboard to Film Comparisons with Martin Scorsese Introduction – This is a roughly four and a half minute feature, where Scorsese talks about how he interprets the film through quick sketches, some more detailed than others, before he begins work on a film. He believes that it helps him come to the set with a sense of security in knowing what he wants to shoot and how, regardless of whether he ends up using the ideas or not.

Animated Photo Galleries, as well as MovieIQ is also available, for those interested.

Taxi Driver is a masterful work of art, that tells an engrossing story that pulls you in, regardless of whether or not you agree with the thoughts and ideas that Travis Bickle represents. This is the film that really helped Martin Scorsese stand out, becoming a critical, and box-office hit when he believed it would fail in both respects. With an extensive restoration of the film, and every extra being brought over from the Collector’s Edition, and the original commentary from the Criterion Collection release, the studio has made sure that this is the definitive release of Taxi Driver, with no need to revisit the film in this format ever again.

Columbia Pictures Presents a Bill/Phillips Production Taxi Driver. Directed by: Martin Scorsese. Starring: Robert De Niro, Jodie Foster, Albert Brooks, Harvey Keitel, Leonard Harris, Peter Boyle, Cybill Shepherd. Running time: 114 minutes. Rating: R. Released on Blu-ray: April 5, 2011.

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