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: Four Lions

12/05/2010

Much has been made of Chris Morris’ willingness to court controversy. The subject matter of Four Lions has already caused a stir, however a viewing of the film is enough to subside these alarms. Though perhaps not from the Daily Mail.

Four Lions focuses on a group of inept would-be suicide bombers planning a terrorist attack on the UK.  As head of the group, Omar tries to plan an attack that will go down in history. He is thwarted somewhat by the idiocy of his fellow extremists…

The striking thing about Four Lions is that for all its absurdity, much of the film is entirely plausible. Rather than faceless murders, these characters are made three dimensional; Omar in particular is portrayed as much like everyone else, in spite of his unpalatable ideas.

The strength of the film is two-fold. On the one hand, there are the well written characters and scenarios, which promote a sense of believability. On the other, the dialogue and set-ups are incredibly funny, giving the audience exactly what they expect from a comedy of this nature.

With a film such as this, commentators will always question how sensitive filmmakers are with their depiction of the Muslim religion. However, Islam remains one of the few things that isn’t made fun of in the film. Whilst Four Lions parodies extremists and their views, authority figures (police and government) and even the unsuspecting nature of colleagues, friends and the public in general, there is no mockery of the actual religion. Four Lions is much cleverer than that.

There are good performances all round, particularly in the camaraderie between characters played by Riz Ahmed and Kayvan Novak. Elsewhere, it is nice to see The Thick of It‘s Alex Macqueen reprising a political role as a clueless MP.

Four Lions is a both a hilarious film and an astute parody of a politically sensitive topic. Undoubtedly certain factions will deem it offensive. But anyone who has actually seen the film will see this criticism as baseless. Four Lions is definitely worth a watch.