Release Date: 8 February 1976
Director: Martin Scorsese
Sometimes, a performance can redefine a film. A single acting job taking a well-written character and infusing it with life, emotion, passion. The dialogue -- taken from a script, or words made up up offhandedly -- soars well above the filmmaker's ambition as the actor breathes energy, dynamism and raw reality into the words. The actor, in short, becomes far more than a sum of his parts.
Picture, for example, Paul Schrader's screenwriting instruction: 'Travis looks in the mirror.' Then, as director Martin Scorsese eggs on his Mean Streets actor to lace up the scene with total improvisation, feast on what the actor does when pushed entirely into his element.
Click here for a video of the fantastic, totally ad-libbed scene.
Robert De Niro made Travis Bickle real -- and frighteningly so. The film follows the enigmatic cabbie through an alarming slice of his life, one where he feels more inadequate, helpless, lonely and disillusioned than ever before, and picks up a gun to kill a politician, a pimp and 'rescue' a pre-teen prostitute. Yeah, that's what can happen when a date goes bad.
De Niro spent a month driving cabs for the part, working full 12-hour shifts. His Bickle doesn't offer us any answers -- we don't even know if he is a Vietnam vet, as he claims to be -- but raises a flurry of furious questions, even as all of us, despite ourselves, submit to his nearly-visible charisma, his aura of irresistibility.
Scorsese harnesses this energy fantastically, giving us character exposition through silence as much as through wonderfully realistic diner-dialogue.
The balance is immaculate, and yet as decidedly off-center as the film's demented protagonist. Taxi Driver's camera expresses it best, pulling away from Travis' face to spare us seeing his heartbreak -- while pushing gleefully towards the film's eventual carnage.