Film Review: Taxi Driver

25/09/2010

Taxi Driver is one of Martin Scorsese’s best films, featuring one of Robert De Niro’s finest performances and Paul Schrader’s excellent screenplay. Simply put, it is one of the greatest films in cinematic history.

Insomniac Travis Bickle drives a taxi in New York City at night. Gradually, Bickle’s instability is revealed as his disgust with the city grows, leading to him making some life-changing choices…

Taxi Driver is an affecting film because it works on numerous levels. It is both a study of violence and a violent film. Taxi Driver depicts Bickle’s disgust at the violence that surrounds him, yet later reveals his inclination to turn to this same method to make his stand. Whilst the climax of the film is famously desaturated to lessen to the effect of the gore, this does not detract overly from this incredibly violent scene. Although the graphic nature of the climax may be shocking to viewers, it is depicted as an act of heroism by the media in the film. Thus, Taxi Driver offers a view of violence in society but remains refreshingly ambiguous in passing judgement.

To describe Travis Bickle simply as an anti-hero does a disservice to the complexity of the character. Schrader has constructed such an intricate protagonist in Bickle. He elicits both sympathy and aversion from the audience. Bickle exhibits in awkwardness in social situations which is sometimes difficult to watch. At the same time, some of his actions appear antagonistic for both other characters in the film and the audience watching. Bickle describes himself as “God’s lonely man”; a very perceptive description of his isolation. This facet of his character is quite relatable, and stands in contrast to other aspects of his personality.

Robert De Niro gives an exceptional performance as Bickle. He truly inhabits the character, portraying his mental disturbance through more subtle tics as well as the troublesome nature of his narrations. Jodie Foster is convincing as young prostitute Iris; she is remarkably solid considering her young age. Cybill Shepherd’s Betsy is the other woman is Bickle’s life. There is quite a divergence between these two females; each of them fuelling his motivation in different ways.

Taxi Driver offers us the final score of legendary composer Bernard Herrmann. And what a score it is. Ranging from a laid-back sax solo to a thunderous rumble, Herrmann’s music is the perfect accompaniment to the visuals, setting the tone for the film.

As a tale of urban alienation, Taxi Driver remains unrivalled. Often movies are described as “must-see” films. In the case of this 1976 classic, that really is the most fitting label.

Taxi Driver was screened at Brewer Street Car Park by the Jameson Cult Film Club. It was introduced by Riz Ahmed.

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Film Review: Brooklyn’s Finest

19/06/2010

In one of the opening scenes of the film, Richard Gere practices committing suicide with an unloaded gun.  No, all those gerbil rumours haven’t gotten too much for him. Rather, this scene is emblematic of the themes and tone of Brooklyn’s Finest.

Antoine Fuqua’s film follows the stories of three cops, all in different stages of their career. Although, for the most part, their stories are unconnected, they work on the same dangerous and jaded streets…

Brooklyn’s Finest works well as an absorbing crime drama, although the outlook is decidedly bleak. The streets of the precinct are devoid of hope, and each cop appears jaded in their own particular way.

In one respect, the film highlights the dangerous realities of being a cop in a place such as Brooklyn. Sal and his friends lament that they are worth more to their families dead rather than alive, due to the $100,000 payout their relatives would receive. On the other hand, however, the film is satiated with graphic violence. Thus the realities of the situation are off-set with the sometimes gratuitous violence. It does not seem a coincidence that characters are frequently shown playing video games, as the action of the film appears to resemble one, at times.

Richard Gere, Don Cheadle and Ethan Hawke all give solid performances. It is perhaps Hawke who excels most, as his frustration at not being able to provide for his family garners the most sympathy. Elsewhere, Wesley Snipes delivers a star turn as Caz, a recently released convict; a role that seems to have been written for Snipes. In this testosterone-filled film, women with significant roles are hard to come by; most cast are either prostitutes or dancers. Ellen Barkin is convincingly unlikable in the only powerful female role.

Overall, Brooklyn’s Finest is a film that delivers, but is also one that offers no real surprises from the director of Training Day. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as Brooklyn’s Finest is a well-crafted drama. But for all its hints of early Scorsese (the themes of crime, the city and Catholicism), the film lacks the magic that would elevate it to ‘classic’ status.


Film Review: Shutter Island

20/03/2010

Often, Martin Scorsese makes it all better. Every now and again, tired of the incessant remakes, sequels and sub-par star vehicles, one longs for a bit of quality in mainstream Hollywood cinema. It seems that Mr Scorsese has heard our cries, as Shutter Island is a thoroughly enjoyable film, reinstating a degree of quality missing from many other recent films.

Granted, the film not an entirely original affair; it is based on Dennis Lehane novel of the same name. However, Scorsese’s picture is an exceptionally well crafted suspense thriller. Whilst perhaps not being on quite the same level as some of the director’s earlier work, it nonetheless harks back to the Classical Hollywood thriller, popularised by Hitchcock and others.

Shutter Island tells the story of a US marshal and his partner who visit an island inhabited solely by a hospital for the criminally insane. Originally called to investigate the disappearance of a patient, their inquiry uncovers something deeper…

Leonardo DiCaprio gives a compelling performance as the marshal haunted by the death of his wife and the atrocities he witnessed whilst serving during World War II. Shutter Island features many of the Scorsese hallmarks, although this time the persistent theme of psychology and the frailty of sanity is brought right to the forefront.

As ever, Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing is on point. The production design, particularly of Ward C, is excellent. The editing, cinematography, design, and the jittering score combine wonderfully to generate an atmosphere of trepidation throughout the duration.

Perhaps the one downside is that the ending may be disappointing for some viewers. However, for over two hours Scorsese grips the audience with this immensely absorbing thriller.