Everyone has their favorite Scorsese flick, but, for me, the man’s never been more on his game than he was with the seminal 1976 vigilante thriller, Taxi Driver. Boasting one of cinema’s best screenplays by regular Scorsese collaborator, Paul Schrader, expert performances by Robert De Niro and Jodie Foster, and Scorsese's deft direction, it's hard to imagine a more perfect document of the seedy New York City of the 1970’s. Now, after an extensive remastering process, Taxi Driver comes to Blu-ray in what is one of the most impressive releases the medium has seen to date.
Travis Bickle (De Niro) is a lonely and unstable Vietnam veteran who takes on a job as a cabbie in New York City. Suffering from insomnia, Travis works extra long shifts during the evenings and spends his days writing bizarre letters to his parents in his one-room apartment or hunkered down in adult movie theaters. His only human interactions are limited to his bizarre late-night clientele and a philosophizing fellow driver named Wizard (Peter Boyle), whose didactic rants about the city’s denizens and their role in its decline serve to fuel Travis’ own disillusionment.
Desperate to find some beauty in his increasingly repulsive world, Travis finds Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), a young campaign worker for New York senator Charles Palantine, a candidate who promises sweeping social reform. Travis follows Betsy, and eventually builds up the courage to ask her out. Betsy accepts, but, when the socially inept Travis takes her to an adult film on their date, she’s horrified and takes a cab home. When he tries to reconcile with her the next day, Betsy makes it clear that she’s not interested, and, thus, Travis’ sinks to a whole new level of despair. His obsession with Betsy gives way to a growing compulsion to clean up the city, and fight back against the petty criminals, thugs, and pimps who rule the night. At first, Travis’ attempts at vigilantism are sloppy, random, and ill-conceived. It’s not until a child prostitute named "Iris" (Foster) gets into his cab to escape her violent pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel), that Travis realizes his true destiny.
I think what I admire most about Taxi Driver is that, unlike similarly-themed films, we never really learn anything about Travis Bickle. There is no back story or major character development that causes him to lose control; he just does what he does because it's what his skewed perceptions deem the right thing to do. Other than the fact that he’s an unstable individual, we know nothing about this complex character. Sure, we learn that he’s a Vietnam vet, but only because that’s what he tells the man who hires him at the cab company. Just as with his letters to his parents, in which he tells them about his job in the secret service and paints a glamorous picture of his new life in the city, Travis’ veteran status could very well be a reflection of the man he wants to be. It’s a tricky proposition to make your “hero” such an enigmatic and conflicted character, and it’s a testament to Scorsese’s trust in De Niro’s interpretation of Shrader’s character that we get a character that we care deeply about, whether or not we can truly root for him either way. Once Foster’s Iris is brought into play, the power of Shrader’s screenplay is truly revealed, as we bear witness to one of the most unsettling-yet-touching relationships in motion picture history. All of this is played out against a grungy Times Square backdrop so vibrantly realized that it becomes a character unto itself. Taxi Driver is a film that has inspired dozens of copycat vigilante flicks and urban dramas, but none have come close to this film's dark soul and surprising sense of humanity.
Sony presents Taxi Driver on Blu-ray with a pristine new 4K transfer, and the results are nothing short of staggering! The new print is exceptionally sharp but retains the film’s gritty and grainy aesthete. The level of detail is extraordinary, even in the film’s darkest moments, with fine facial details and intricacies of clothing and architecture looking marvelous. Colors are reproduced accurately and, while fairly muted, colors such as the yellow of Travis’ taxi and Iris’ bright outfits pop. Contrast is dead on throughout, with rich, velvety blacks, and not a hint of DNR or compression. This is an amazing looking transfer – perhaps the best I’ve seen for a film of its vintage, and its complimented by an expertly mixed and balanced 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack.
Sony’s loads on the extras with this long-awaited release, including:
• Interactive “Script to Screen” feature, exclusive to Blu-ray.
• Original 1986 Commentary with Director Martin Scorsese and Writer Paul
• Commentary by writer Paul Schrader
• Commentary by University of Virginia Professor Robert Kolker
• “Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver” featurette (HD)
• “Producing Taxi Driver,” a behind-the-scenes featurette (HD)
• “Influence and Appreciation” featurette (HD)
• “God’s Lonely Man” – a documentary featuring screenwriter Paul Schrader and
Professor Robert Kolker discussing the loneliness themes as seen in the film. (HD)
• “Travis’ New York Locations” – video visit to the film’s famous locations in New York City, comparing them to the same locations used in 1975. (HD)
• Storyboard to Film Comparisons (HD)
• “Taxi Driver Stories” featurette—taxi tales as told by real life New York city
cab drivers. (HD)
• “Making Of Taxi Driver” Feature-Length Documentary (SD)
• Animated Photo Galleries
• Theatrical Trailer (SD)
The set is packaged in a heavy duty trifold case, and accompanied by a set of lobby card reproductions.
One of the best films of all time, and easily the best film of its genre, Taxi Driver’s Blu-ray debut is designed to make cinephiles stand up and take notice. From its gorgeous packaging and exceptional collection of supplemental materials to the superlative A/V experience they’ve put together, here, Sony has shown Taxi Driver the respect it deserves. Highest possible recommendation!