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‘Taxi Driver’ (R)

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
March 01, 1996

"TAXI DRIVER," a sometimes-elliptical masterpiece about the bloody redemption of an alienated New York cabbie, has been rereleased to mark its 20th anniversary. But it hasn't aged so much as triumphantly metastasized. Since the mid-1970s, the movie has become presciently emblematic of our emotionally diseased, violence-prone culture.

Central character Travis Bickle's semi-psychotic, solo routine in front of the mirror—"You talkin' to me?"—has been performed as a gag at keg parties, around lunch tables, in standup routines, via e-mail and certainly in front of mirrors across the world for nearly 20 years.

More tragically, John W. Hinckley Jr.'s bizarre infatuation with Jodie Foster—who plays the object of a similar obsession in "Taxi Driver"—caused him to gun down President Reagan in 1981. Hinckley's statement that he wanted to impress the actress, the assassination attempt's bloody denouement (four men were struck down in all) and Hinckley's media infamy echo chillingly the scenario in "Taxi Driver." Paul Schrader's script, in fact, was partly inspired by the diaries of Arthur Bremer, the man who shot George Wallace.

And the 1976 movie's theme of bomb-ticking loneliness and, by extension, the notion that we are a nation of angry strangers who vent paranoid resentment toward public figures or the government, couldn't be more resonant today.

"Taxi Driver" also happens to be a great movie, one of the few relatively recent films (like "The Godfather") to join the pantheon of popular classics and great American cinema.

The story is about Vietnam veteran and loner Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro), who takes a job as a cabdriver in New York City. He is drawn to—and disgusted by—the 42nd Street and Times Square world of weirdos, hookers and pornographic theaters. Every night, he transports lost souls from place to place in this Hades-like zone, while he fumes with fascination, disgust and unbearable solitude.

His frustrated life takes a decisive turn when he meets—and fixes on—two women, two beacons of hope that he steers toward. One is icy uptown girl Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), who works for a presidential candidate, the other is Iris (Foster), a 12-year-old prostitute in bondage to her pimp, Sport (Harvey Keitel). When things don't turn out well with Betsy, Travis takes a course of action that changes everyone's lives forever.

Although "Taxi Driver" has been available on video for years, here is a brief opportunity to savor it the way it's meant to be seen: on the big screen. Schrader's provocative screenplay, Martin Scorsese's vivid, fluid direction, Bernard Herrmann's sensual, velvety score (which you will hear in Dolby for the first time) and De Niro's landmark performance will come to life again, 20 years later, and this trip to the flicks will be more than worth your while.

TAXI DRIVER (R) — Contains violence, sexual situations and profanity.

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