Celebrating Great Films

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Taxi Driver

Taxi Driver#37 at time of writing.

This film is extremely high up IMDb's Top 250 list. I was expecting to be blown away - not by CGI and melodrama, but by being forced to think and to reassess the world I live in - that's what makes a great film for me. But I didn't get what I expected.

Instead I got an understated, slow-burning, sinister film. A good film, but it probably would not have made my personal top 250. Then again, now that I am making more of an effort to watch the so-called classics, maybe I need to rethink my opinion on what makes a good film.

I also recently watched the classic films that made Jack Nicholson an A-lister: Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces. They too were slow-burning, cynical, unexpected films that were undeniably very good, but perhaps not to my taste. But, a week or two later, I remember them. I remember the crucial scenes. They have made an impression on me. They linger. So maybe they are making me reassess the world I live in, in a subtler, deeper way. Maybe these nuanced films will blindside me, and by the time I get round to watching them again, I won't understand why I didn't always love them.

Robert De Niro has been rightly lauded for his infinitely sensitive portrayal of Travis Bickle, the insomniac Vietnam vet of limited intelligence whose job as a cabbie hides him from all but the seediest sides of society until it's all he knows. De Niro worked twelve-hour days for a month driving cabs as preparation for the role. And he was clearly under the character's skin - his most famous line from the film was improvised. I had always assumed "You talkin' to me?" would be scary and menacing, but it was dripping with sadness and isolation.

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