With their second collaboration in 1974, Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet… MoreWith their second collaboration in 1974, Al Pacino and Sidney Lumet delivered one of the very best films of the decade with "Dog Day Afternoon". It was a taut and captivating true-life story of a bank robber that gets way in over his head. Two years previously, though, they worked on another true-life story from the opposite side of the law. This time it was NYPD officer Frank Serpico and how he got way in over his head with police corruption rife all around him.
1960's New York: Frank Serpico is a cop who refuses to extort the local criminals and take pay-off's even though all his colleagues seem to be in on it. As a result, nobody trusts or wants to work him and Serpico begins to realise that his life is in danger by the very people who have sworn to protect and serve. Time and time again, he refuses to go on the take, hoping that an investigation will be launched into the conduct of his numerous partners but knows that it will take his own involvement or testimony to make a difference.
After a frantic opening where Serpico is rushed to hospital bleeding from a gunshot wound to the face, Lumet slows events down and goes back to where it all began. We witness his recruitment to the police department and his ideological approach to the job. It's slow to start and spends a bit too much time on Sepico's home life when really all you want is for the police corruption angle to move along. That being said, when things do start to get going, the film improves as it progresses.
Revered as one the finest films of the 70's and for it's time, that's completely understandable as police corruption drama's were not as commonplace as they are now. However, it now looks dated and time hasn't been all that kind to it. Arthur J. Ornitz's cinematography is observant enough to utilise the New York locations to excellent effect which lend the film a suitably grim and realistic tone but some scenes are far too dark to fully make out what's actually going on. For the most part, Lumet's handling of the material is strong and he's in no rush to relate this biopic. Although this is commendable, his pacing is slightly misjudged leaving you with feelings of lethargy and an overlong running time. Added to which - with the obvious exception of Serpico - there really isn't any other character that gets attention in Waldo Salt and Norman Wexler's screenplay. The support are all two-dimensional and some of the acting on show is very questionable, indeed. It even wastes the talents of great character actors like M. Emmett Walsh and F. Murray Abraham in thankless bit-parts. The most glaring flaw, however, is Greek composer Mikis Theodakaris' ridiculously overused and misplaced music score. It's feels random, tonally different and bears heavily on particular scenes that it brings nothing of value to. It even plays over the dialogue which can be difficult to hear and results in the film feeling cheap.
Now, this sounds like a lot of flaws for a film that's held in such high regard but they do happen to be there and wouldn't be looked upon kindly by a contemporary audience. That aside, though, there is still much to recommend the film. It builds tension with ease and has numerous standalone scenes that are of a very high quality and the denouement is, simply, a work of genius.
Ultimately, it's a vehicle for Pacino and, unsurprisingly, he delivers an explosive central performance. It's one of his most iconic and his commitment to the role actually raises the film beyond a particular standard. "The Godfather" may have been the film that made his name but it's his performance here that cemented it. He not only echoes the reservation of Michael Corleone but also displays moments of frustration and rage that allow him to grandstand in the way that only Al knows how.
Much like the refusal of Frank Serpico to go on the take, I refuse to fall into line with the particular posse of critics who see no fault in this film.
I honestly thought I'd be handing out top marks for a film I was very fond of in the past but I wouldn't be being honest if I did. That's not to say that it doesn't have quality in there too, though. Age may not have been kind but you can't put a time on a top class performance.
Many didn't pay attention when Jeremy Saulnier made his directorial… MoreMany didn't pay attention when Jeremy Saulnier made his directorial debut in 2007 with the little seen comedy/horror film "Monster Party". I know I didn't. Now, though, it's going to be hard to forget him as his sophomore effort "Blue Ruin" hits our screens (and our jugulars) with an impressively handled and assembled dark thriller that brings reminders of the arrival of the Coen brothers and all the taut and twisted glee of "Blood Simple".
Dwight Evans (Macon Blair) is a man seemingly down on his luck but his self-imposed exile from society is the result of his parents being murdered at the hands of a powerful criminal family. When he discovers that the man convicted of his parentsā?? murders has been released from prison, he sets out to even the score with a revenge killing.
The first thing that strikes you about "Blue Ruin" is it's odd choice of a leading actor. Relative unknown Macon Blair doesn't have the chiseled looks or the physique of a man on a revenge mission. There's a vulnerability to him and from the outset we are introduced to him as nothing more than a hobo who eats from garbage bins and hides under a mane of greasy hair and a long unkempt beard. Blair, however, doesn't use his hirsuteness to mask his performance. Once he actually grooms himself, he reveals an even more vulnerable side with gentle eyes that speak volumes. He's an flawed everyman that's easy to relate to and identify with and Blair's outstanding central performance is pitched to the perfect level. He lends an authenticity to an already believable and cleverly structured modern noir.
Writer/director/cinematographer Saulnier's approach the material couldn't be more deftly handled either. He doesn't rely on an intrusive music score or shock tactics (as you'd maybe expect from a director who cut his teeth on a low-budget horror movie) but wisely pairs events down and allows the tension and suspense to build assuredly around natural characters, performances and events. He's also not adverse to interspersing the proceedings with some welcome dark humour. This is an absolutely solid piece of work that commands your attention from the opening scene and even though it has a quiet, reflective tone to it, it sustains it's vice-like grip and refuses to let go.
On this evidence, it looks like we've witnessed the arrival of two very special talents. Both Jeremy Saulnier and Macon Blair are definitely for the watching and they've delivered one of the best (and biggest) surprises of the year. This is raw, visceral and unbearably tense filmmaking.
Better known for his visual effects supervision on such films as "Life… MoreBetter known for his visual effects supervision on such films as "Life of Pi", and more significantly, as production designer on "Oz: The Great And Powerful" and winning Oscars for "Avatar" and "Alice in Wonderland", Robert Stromberg now delves into his first directorial outing with a reimagining of the classic fairy tale, "Sleeping Beauty". Much like the aforementioned "Oz", the characters from this well known children's story are playfully recreated in a lush and involving fantasy and with Stromberg's expertise who better to take us on that journey?!...
In a Kingdom halved by both fairies and humans, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) is a fairy who protects her half from human intruders. However, a childhood relationship she developed with a human named Stefan (Sharlto Copley) proves to be her undoing. Stefan has ambitions to be King one day and betrays the trust of Maleficent to achieve it. As a result, she curses his first born child, Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) to a death-like sleep on her 16th birthday that only a true-love's kiss can break.
Opening on a wondrous, enchanted land with fairies, nymphs and magical powers, we are introduced to the young Maleficant - the winged guardian of her idyllic, peaceful forest. From the outset we're definitely back in the realm of the fairy tale where Maleficent wasn't the evil villain with a grudge to bare but a caring fairy, pure of heart and who, quite frankly, got turned over. And this is exactly where "Maleficent" succeeds. It twists what we've come to know and invents a whole new story by ditching the mysogynistic reveries of righteous King's and handsome Prince's who's lip-locking charms can save a damsel in distress with a mere peck. This is more of a feminist revisioning as we get more of a backstory and focus on what is predominantly seen as the antagonist of this story. Much like Mila Kunis' portrayal of the Wicked Witch in "Oz" and Julia Roberts' Evil Queen from Snow White's story in "Mirror Mirror" we learn that their motivations derived from being scorned or abandoned by the men in their lives, lending a welcome complexity to these female characters - which brings me to Angelina Jolie's titular role. Throughout a film awash with CGI it's her that shines the most. She brings the requisite emotional depth and her motivations are entirely clear and understandable when really they were skimmed over in the classic 1959 Disney animation. It's hard to imagine anyone else being as perfectly suited to Maleficent as Jolie is and it ultimately works on her committed three-dimensional performance alone.
Another welcome addition to the proceedings is Stromberg's ability to combine the light and the dark. His expertise in the visual department is certainly on show and can be enjoyed by both adults and children alike but as much as Linda Woolverton's script dares to venture into the emotional turmoil of Maleficent, it doesn't bring much scope to the other characters. Fanning's Princess Aurora is given little to do but looked perplexed in this magical land and Copley's King Stefan has a slightly misplaced Scottish accent (see also his recent turn in "Oldboy"). As the title suggests, though, it isn't really about anyone else other than Maleficent and on that front, both the character and the performance, deliver the goods.
Despite it sagging slightly around the midway point this is, largely, an engaging and successful retelling that isn't afraid to conjure up some darkness from it's fantastical melting pot.
After finally helping Jeff Bridges to a long overdue Oscar in "Crazy… MoreAfter finally helping Jeff Bridges to a long overdue Oscar in "Crazy Heart", director Scott Cooper follows up that tale of a downward spiralling musician with another one of downward spiralling blue collar workers. Narratively, it's lacking a certain something but one thing's for sure with Cooper; he certainly knows how to bring out the best from his actors.
With a cruel twist of fate, Russell Baze (Christian Bale) lands himself in prison after a driving offence. While inside, his terminally ill father passes away and his younger, ex-soldier, brother Rodney (Casey Affleck) takes to bare-knuckle fighting to pay off debts. When Russell is released, he finds that Rodney is in over his head with a ruthless crime ring led by Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When Rodney eventually disappears, Russell takes matters into his own hands.
If the town depicted in "Out Of The Furnace" feels familiar then that because it's likely reminding you of the same Pennsylvania steel-mill town that was the setting for Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" in 1978. It would also seem that Scott Cooper is intent on regularly referencing Cimino's classic throughout this films duration; it channels a similar theme of a lack of opportunities for the characters and even though some serve their country in war (Iraq steps in for Vietnam this time) they are forgotten about when they return home. We also get to stare down the scope of a hunting rifle now and again, and there's even a scene where actual deer hunting takes place. And the point of it all, I hear you ask? Well, to be frank, I'm not particularly sure. Maybe Cooper is trying to tell us that so many years - and wars - down the line nothing has changed for these working class people. They're mere fodder and left to go back to their land of opportunity were opportunity doesn't really exist for them. This could be Cooper's intention or it could just be that I'm reading into his script a little too deeply when it's highly possible that there is no depth in the first place. Somewhere there's a commentary on the economic state of contemporary America but the message is muddled somewhat, as it veers into a generic backwoods crime thriller.
The film is a strangely frustrating experience whereby what you see in front of you is visually commanding but it's hard to connect to the character's and their plight. The weakness of the script is apparent and it's hard to grasp the film as anything more than a revenge flick that leaves a slightly nasty aftertaste. That being said, Cooper is certainly a director that has a good eye and feel for detail and he has a full command over his splendid ensemble. It's the solid performances that really make the film tick. Not that any further proof is required in terms of their acting abilities but a smoulderingly intense Affleck and a snarling, brutish Harrelson really excel and solid (all-be-it, underwritten) support is delivered from Whitaker and Dafoe. It's Bale who impresses most, though, in one of his most effective and understated roles. There's nothing heroic about him. He's simply a soulful man with a deep sense of family commitment and refuses to yield when anyone threatens that.
As much as I couldn't see what the point of the whole affair was, I still went along with it. It's deliberately paced and still manages to hold your attention. As a director, Cooper shows a lot of promise but he needs to tighten up on his writing duties. When that happens, I suspect we'll see a real improvement on this potentially solid filmmaker.
"You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A… More"You have to think about one shot. One shot is what it's all about. A deer's gotta be taken with one shot. I try to tell people that but they don't listen"
Released in 1978, only three years after the official end of the Vietnam war, Michael Cimino's "The Deer Hunter" seemed as if it may have been too soon for the American psyche. It was a surprising box-office hit but was also one of the most controversial, major theatrical releases about America's involvement in the war. It went on to receive 9 Academy Award nominations (winning 5 - including Best Picture and Best Director). Despite this, the backlash was pretty vehement. It received criticism from the likes of Jane Fonda and John Wayne who in his last public appearance had to present it with it's Best Picture award even though he wasn't fond of the film. These criticisms came in many forms but for as many critics as it's had, there were also a great number who considered it to be another American classic.
Michael (Robert DeNiro), Stevie (John Savage) and Nick (Christopher Walken) are among a group of friends who live and work in the steel mill town of Clairton, Pennsylvania. They spend their time getting drunk and going deer hunting before they are enlisted in the airborne infantry of Vietnam. What was once a slow-paced and fun-filled life is shoved into the stark reality of warfare and how their experiences change their lives forever.
Clocking in at just over three hours, "The Deer Hunter" is a film of length. However, it's one that never overstays it's welcome as Cimino wisely works within a three act structure - book-ending the war with marriage and death. He may take his time and linger long on shots but it never gets boring. To view it as simply another Vietnam film is to entirely miss the point also. If it is to be viewed in any way, it should be as a commentary on American disillusionment and it's loss of innocence at this time. It's intention is not focus on the war itself but on the aftermath and the impact war can have on the lives of ordinary working people. In fact, the scenes that take place in Vietnam only amount to a very small portion of the film, overall. Ultimately, it's a character study that's only heightened by the 50 minute wedding sequence at the beginning of the film. Many grumble about this being too indulgent but it's integral that we get to know these characters in order to fully understand them. It's during the wedding reception that they come across a Green Beret who has just finished his Tour of Duty; they buy him a drink and take offence when all he has to tell them about the war is... "Fuck it!". This perfectly sums up the naivete of these young men as they seem to have a romanticised idea of war and have absolutely no idea of what is to become them.
Following this, a bunch of them go on a deer hunting trip where we again see the dynamic of the group and get to know each of them more personally. Suddenly, we are then thrust into the chaos of Vietnam and it's not before long that the films iconic and controversial Russian roulette scene takes place. This is a scene that has received much criticism in not only being claimed as inaccurate - as there was no evidence to suggest that any such atrocities took place during the conflict - but for being racist in it's sadistic stereotype of the Viet Cong captors. These criticisms are justifiable to an extent but, personally, I think the critics have taken it far too literally. If viewed as a metaphor for the senselessness of war and the inhumanity of man during wartime struggles then it's entirety fitting to the films themes and says more about an initiation into manhood. It was literally minutes before this powerful scene that DeNiro's Michael and Walken's Nick were discussing how a deer should be killed with "one shot" and now (ironically) they must face a similar fate. This game of chance is the catalyst that changes the dynamic of the three principle characters (the other being John Savage's Stevie) and further adds to the character development that was so playfully and innocently displayed in the opening wedding sequence or the camaraderie of the deer hunt. It's purpose is not to be racist but to capture the extreme pressure that soldiers face in conflict. In the film's final act, some of them return home only to realise that they're traumatised as they struggle to fit back into society. There have been claims that it doesn't take an overly pro or anti stance towards the conflict but I struggle to see how. This was one was of the first films to challenge the perspective on Vietnam. The likes of "Platoon" and "Full Metal Jacket" were praised for such honesty and I believe this deserves the same credibility.
"The Deer Hunter" is, undoubtedly, epic filmmaking and despite your political interpretation, there's no denying the power of it's emotionally devastating narrative. It's unlikely that Cimino will be able to deliver a work of this magnitude ever again. He tried and failed in 1980 with "Heaven's Gate" (bankrupting United Artists Studio in the process) but his scope and ambition here deserves the utmost respect. So too does the work of cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond for his astounding ability to capture both the expansive landscapes of Pennsylvania and the war ravaged mountainous villages of Vietnam. The actors are also very strong and committed throughout. This would be the last performance of the great John Cazale - before his untimely death to cancer - and the first notable one from Meryl Streep, who brings a touching vulnerability to her supporting role. Walken (who won a Supporting Actor Oscar) is a marvel and deservedly made a name for himself in the process. As good as they are, though, it's DeNiro who anchors the film in a enigmatic display of stoicism. Another deserved Oscar nomination came his way and even though this is a film that many omit from DeNiro's plethora of magnificent performances throughout the 70's and 80's, it happens to be one of his strongest and most unsung. DeNiro apparently described his role as one of the most physical and exhausting that he's ever done, and it's easy to see why. Every emotional, physical and mental abuse that he seems to be suffering is perfectly and gruellingly displayed onscreen.
The 1970's are well known for producing some of the finest experiences in cinema and "The Deer Hunter" can, proudly, consider itself one of one them. It's marvellously structured, harrowingly vivid and so grand and ambitious that it thoroughly deserves it's epic status. Truly one of the best of it's decade.
Reportedly made before they collaborated on the impressive vigilante… MoreReportedly made before they collaborated on the impressive vigilante thriller "Prisoners" in 2013, Jake Gyllenhaal and director Denis Villeneuve crafted this fascinating and hugely involving psychological drama. Now that the surrealist master David Lynch has seemingly taken a backseat from filmmaking, it's promising to see that someone else is able to handle the material that wouldn't be out of place in his hands.
Mild-mannered history professor Adam Bell (Jake Gyllenhaal), is disillusioned with his life and current partner (Melanie Laurent) and apparently in search of some other fulfilment. On the suggestion of a colleague, he happens to rent a movie one evening and catches a glimpse of a bit-part actor (Gyllenhaal again). He pauses the film for a better look and notices that he shares an identical resemblance to him. After some investigation he decides to meet his doppelganger but their lives begin to intertwine and the real problems begin.
"Chaos is order yet undeciphered" - pay heed to this opening quote, as well as the opening scene while pondering the complexities of Villenueve's marvellously twisted, psychological offering. It certainly wont make a whole lot of sense to begin with but it'll serve you well in trying to decipher just what the hell is going on and even though some will still not fully grasp it, the answers are definitely there. There are plot elements that are better left unexplained but rest assured that this is a film that's entirely deserving of your time and effort and by doing so, you'll be thoroughly rewarded.
The destination will leave many perplexed but the beauty of "Enemy" is the intriguingly dreamlike and suspenseful journey. Not unlike the style of David Fincher, Villeneuve chooses to shoot in desaturated colours which adds to the sense of loneliness and detachment and Gyllenhaal delivers some towering work. On the one hand, he leads a empty existence, reflected in his social awkwardness and soulless, repetitive lifestyle while on the other he captures a dark arrogance that counterbalances his characters. Gyllenhaal's dual role offers many delights as you watch the subtlety of his different mannerisms and without such convincing central performances, the film probably wouldn't work as well as it does. Kudos to Villeneuve's as well, though. His adaptation and handling of Jose Saramago's compelling, 2002 novel "The Double" is very tight and assured. He keeps the running time short, rarely wasting a moment, and sustains a palpable sense of unease and tension right up until the shocking (and thought provoking) end.
If you could splice Lynch's "Lost Highway" or "Mulholland Drive" with Fincher's "Fight Club"while adding a little of Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" then this would be their bastard child. It's as cerebral and surreal as those aforementioned films and just as good at channeling their similar themes of moral uncertainty.
With an Enemy like this, who needs friends?
Remember the days when Spike Lee's "joints" has a real edge and… MoreRemember the days when Spike Lee's "joints" has a real edge and potency to them? Nowadays, he's rolling out more generic, Hollywood tripe like "Oldboy" but there was a time when he was a highly original and passionately political filmmaker as he regularly touched upon important social issues and conflicts. However, few of his joints have been as packed or as provocative as "Do The Right Thing".
On a hot summer day in a Brooklyn neighbourhood, the residents struggle to keep their cool in the increasingly sweltering temperature. Sal (Danny Aiello) owns the local Italian pizzeria where he happens to upset black activist Buggin' Out (Giancarlo Esposito) who, in turn, demands the black community boycott his place. Most people are unwilling to do so but it still adds to the discontentment amongst the community as racial attitudes and prejudices begin to surface.
Taking the title from Malcolm X's quote "You've got to do the right thing" and being inspired by an actual incident in Howard Beach, New York, Spike Lee crafts an important and unflinching portrayal of racial tension in a literal urban melting pot. He sets his intentions from the outset with the ferociously pumping music of Public Enemy's "Fight the Power" and infuses his story with an eclectic mix of races, characters and personalities, while still managing to lend the film an important lightness of touch. It has a distinct and observant humour that magnifies the absurdity in people's preconceptions and judgments but this absurdity is soon, skilfully, shifted to frustration and rage which descends his characters into a chaotic madness.
Filled with an abundance of excellent performances from Danny Aiello's hard working Sal to John Turturro as his racist son Pino and a small but highly entertaining role for Samuel L. Jackson as the radio dj, 'Mister SeĆ±or Love Daddy' - who seemingly oversees everything in the neighbourhood. Lee's direction is vibrant and colourful and makes full use of an excellent hip-hop score before other filmmakers even realised it was cool to do so. His script is also as sharp as they come with endlessly quotable dialogue and he even has the bravery to have a selection of characters - from different ethnic backgrounds - rhyme off very personal and racial slurs in a montage that breaks the fourth wall. With this scene alone, it's easy to see why some were offended by the film upon it's release. It's a passionate reflection of racism and race relations and one that raises as many questions as it answers. However, that's the whole point; Lee's agenda is not to incite trouble but to rouse debate and he does a sterling job in doing so, while still being empathetic towards each and every one of his characters - regardless of their ethnicity. That's the real key in preventing this film from being contradictory in it's arguments as many critics have claimed it to be. Few films have ever dealt with racism as powerfully or as thought provoking as Lee does here. He has a strong voice on the subject and this outstanding piece of work is one that's still as relevant today as it ever was.
Beginning with a simmer before ending in a boiling intensity, this a powerful and thought provoking, sociopolitical commentary. Lee would go on to deliver the similarly themed "Jungle Fever" and "Malcolm X" after this, which cemented his reputation as one the most important black filmmaker's of our (or any) generation.
"You have to struggle with yourself. You have to struggle with your… More"You have to struggle with yourself. You have to struggle with your own strength".
Say what you will about the stylings of Terrence Malick. He's undoubtedly a director that puts his own stamp on things and refuses to tell a story in any conventional sense. He's more interested in capturing moments and subtle glances while pondering the larger themes of love, life and religious beliefs. When you back at his older works of "Days Of Heaven", "The Thin Red Line" or "The Tree Of Life", for example, you'll find these themes in abundance. From a personal point of view, I often find Malick's approach to be highly appealing but with "To The Wonder", I was left somewhat distant and uninterested this time around.
Marina (Olga Kurylenko) is a Parisian single-mother who falls madly in love with tourist Neil (Ben Affleck) and moves with her daughter Tatiana (Tatiana Chiline) to America. Their love begins to dissipate, however, and Neil eventually seeks solace in his old friend Jane (Rachel McAdams) as Marina turns to Father Quintana (Javier Bardem), who is also exploring his own dwindling faith and confusion.
Opening in Paris with the focus on Affleck and Kurylenko who obviously have a strong emotional engagement, we are guided through Malick's soulful exploration of love. We hear the internal dialogues of his characters as they strive for reason and understanding. Unfortunately, as a viewer, I too was searching for these things as Malick is so elusive and overly suggestive that it becoming increasingly frustrating and depressing as we observe hugely underwritten characters that do very little to grab your attention or even evoke any level of appeal or understanding.
Malick's vision is certainly a beautiful one and his cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki delivers some striking work. The camera pirouettes with long, sweeping movements that again capture Malick's ethereal approach. However, after about 20 minutes, you realise that it feels like you're watching a Chanel perfume ad and after several scenes of a cool breeze rustling through the cornfields and Kurylenko dancing her little cotton sock off under an autumnal sun, it's apparent that this all we're going get. The dialogue is sparse, to say the least, and there's more nibbling on earlobes than there is any actual verbal exchanges between the characters. Affleck, in particular, says very little throughout the entire film and is only required to stand around with his hands in pockets and brood. Rachel McAdams makes an appearance of another of Affleck's love interests but all she has to do is brush her horse's main on her Oklahoman ranch and let the wind blow her hair across her face from time to time. Our religious commentary comes in the form of Bardem's afflicted priest who has began to question his spiritual fulfilment. Is god still around us? Does such a entity even exist? Would relationships be easier if we felt more of his love and presence? Do we really care?
It's not often I've find myself criticising Malick. Like I mentioned earlier, he's a director I greatly admire and "The Thin Red Line" is a masterwork in my eyes but this is strictly a colour by numbers effort that's seriously aloof and lacking in narrative. Some may revel in it's abstraction and ambiguity but, quite frankly, I found it to be tediously dull. As much as I love Malick's affinity with nature, I'd rather have watched the grass grow on this occasion.
Not so much Wonder as Wander; Malick's latest existential elegy is meandering, pretentious clap-trap that surprisingly (from a former philosophical lecturer) has very little to say and it's entirely understandable why it was met with boos at the Venice Film Festival.
Now regarded as a cinematic classic, I have to admit that Martin… MoreNow regarded as a cinematic classic, I have to admit that Martin Scorsese's "Taxi Driver" was always a film that left me as isolated as it's lead character. The first time I saw it, I thought it vastly overrated. Admittedly, I was in my teens at this point and never managed to fully grasp it's themes. With each viewing it, admittedly, grew in stature but I could never really get over my initial judgement. It's not often that I'll backtrack on my opinion but I have now come full circle and can appreciate just how good a film it is and why it's regarded as one of the true greats of American cinema.
Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) is a lonely, mentally unstable taxi driver who scours New York City every night where he becomes increasingly disgusted with the seedy cesspool around him. He attempts to strike up a connection with local presidential campaign worker, Betsy (Cybill Shepherd) but when that falls flat, he takes it upon himself to change things and fails again in an assassination attempt on the Senator himself (Leonard Harris). Determined to make a difference, he turns his mind to rescuing Iris (Jodie Foster), a preadolescent prostitute from the clutches of her pimp and lover, Sport (Harvey Keitel).
Opening with Bernard Herrmann's distinctive and sleazy score, we are thrust into the nightlife of New York City where there's a blaze of neon light reflected on the streets and rainswept windscreens. The grim debauchery of the city's nightlife is captured to perfection by Michael Chapman's striking cinematography. As much as Herrmann and Chapman play a major part in the proceedings, though, so too does the unsettling delivery of DeNiro in a bravura show of restraint and suggestion. The film wastes no time in introducing us to his iconic Travis Bickle: a 26 year old, Vietnam veteran and insomniac who struggles to socially connect. This truly is one of DeNiro's finest moments onscreen. He would receive, a well deserved, Oscar nomination and to actually win the award would not have been out of place either. It's a captivating performance and it's hard to avert your eyes from his intensity. Speaking of eyes, it's easy to lose count of the amount of times that DeNiro acts with them alone. At times, he doesn't even need to speak as his eyes, either directly or indirectly, speak volumes. We often get a glimpse of them as he observes the city's inhabitants through his rear view mirror and there's a lot going on. Behind them, a simmering menace and desperation are so expressively captured and Scorsese is wise to focus on them. Essentially Travis' eyes are our own in this debauched and immoral world of degenerates. Even DeNiro's (now infamous) "You talkin' to me?" ad-lib stems from him observing himself in the mirror and playing out his deranged fantasies. Whether intentional or not, Scorsese's use of mirrors play quite a significant part in reflecting Travis' alienation and paranoid psychosis.
As for the Big Apple itself, Scorsese has regularly been known for his ability to capture it in the minutest detail but "Taxi Driver" has to be the most descriptive he's ever been. Through Travis' perspective, he depicts it as a nightmarish, hell on earth; the steam rising from the street vents and crime and prostitution at every corner. This is a city that's depicted with dark and repugnant depths as the dirt and grime oozes from it's pores. Our troubled protagonist struggles to come to term with it as we observe his increasing frustration and distance. We feel his alienation and through his diary entries we are allowed to hear his innermost thoughts. It's unnerving to see Travis' decent and the dangerous fragility of his mental health. When he finally attests to having "... some bad ideas in my head", we realise that the depravity of this environment is dangerously permeating this man's psyche.
At one point Travis is compared the lyrics of Kris Kristofferson's song He's a Pilgrim: "... a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction.
Taking every wrong direction on his lonley way back home" which is cleverly dropped in at an early point in the film but only makes complete sense when his odyssey is over. It's moments like this that only serve as a reminder of the layers in Paul Schrader's script. This isn't simply about one man's struggle with society but an astute, psychological character study that ambiguously treads a fine line between redemption and damnation while leaving us to question our interpretation of events. The denouement is particularly interesting and although Schrader himself has stated that the closing "could be spliced to the first frame, and the movie started all over again" suggesting that what we've witnessed falls more into the damnation element of Travis, there also exists a sequence that could arguably be claimed as redemptive which would leave Travis Bickle as on of cinema's most intriguing (and contradictory) anti-hero's.
Almost 40 years on and now firmly part of American film culture, this still has as much staying power as it had upon its release. It's just a shame that it's taken me all of 20 years to fully appreciate it. A reappraisal of this film was always a major requirement of mine but by going into it with a more open mind, I can honestly say that I feel I have experienced "Taxi Driver" as if it was my first time and that experience was, simply, magnificent.