The Animals Come Out at Night

Tom (Albert Brooks) spends part of his day inside brightly lit, clean presidential campaign headquarters worried about which word is underlined on the buttons he ordered. It’s such a useless conversation, oblivious even, yet among Taxi Driver’s most quintessential moments.

Robert De Niro staring into a mirror, caught in a vigilante fantasy and mouthing legendary cinematic phrases represents his character. The slow drip of instability that weighs on the sleepless, directionless war veteran boils over in that moment. In late ‘70s New York, the city won. Violence and disdain became poison. Travis Bickle (De Niro) slowly dies inside.

Taxi Driver’s New York looks sensationally raw, terrible, and uninviting

Maybe Bickle’s a hero. Maybe the presidential candidate is the villain, or it’s the pimp selling underage girls. Taxi Driver doesn’t separate the two latter characters. Both exploit poverty and circumstance for their own gain. In Taxi Driver’s world, neither makes a change for the positive. Outside the campaign office, Bickle deteriorates. He’s lost, he’s downtrodden, he knows how to kill. And yet inside, they worry about their button’s phrasing.

Taxi Driver spends a majority of its runtime under red lights. Racial disparities are visible from inside the cab, and theaters advertise porn over any studio films. New York looks sensationally raw, terrible, and uninviting, ingredients that weigh on Bickle. The way Taxi Driver employs light for brief flourishes of Bickle’s normalcy and crushing darkness as he sees New York’s truth at night faultlessly divides two existences.

Vigilante cinema saw a burst of popularity throughout the late ‘70s and ‘80s, movies designed to exploit anger around rising criminality rather than address the root causes. Taxi Driver isn’t one of those. Instead, it connects issues to poverty, sickness, and despair. With its final violent outburst, the camera zooms on shredded hands, bullet wounds, and hovers over a litany of bodies. Bickle smiles as air leaves his lungs. He stopped caring, yet the nuance is Bickle’s willingness to assassinate a politician early in the day; Bickle simply got caught.

Bickle doesn’t hate politics. Rather, he knows almost nothing about them, too underprivileged to believe a talking head in a campaign ad makes any difference in his life. What Bickle sees is the hypocrisy and the sham, someone who cites welfare programs, yet wastes time worried about whether an underlined word on a button changes anything. They don’t. Bickle sees this, but also the seediness that exists whether those buttons reach the public or not. So he makes a decision. A bad one. But he’s the hero.

Video

Superlative encoding handles Taxi Driver’s thickly layered grain structure. Undoubtedly, this wasn’t an easy job. Consistency like this is rare and spectacular, especially from a film stock that often carries the traits of 16mm.

Behind that grain sits detail galore. Sharpness excels, drawing New York of the late ’70s without sacrificing any texture. Facial definition jumps forward when in close, even as the camera pulls back. The 4K master reveals every capability of modern scanning, and the print itself is flawless.

Dolby Vision can’t break all of the black crush (watch as De Niro tries hitting on the theater employee), but adds immeasurable visual value. Against the city’s pitch black night, neon signs push impressive brightness via their lights. Overall contrast matures, elevating dimensionality. Bolder color adds more yellow to the taxis. Primaries look outright wealthy in their density. That saturation doesn’t cost Taxi Driver tone.

Audio

Bringing over the DTS-HD 5.1 mix from the Blu-ray, the result is messy, imprecise, and coarse. Dialog pushes far with its treble, landing in a thick, even distorted high. That grit matches Taxi Driver’s overall tone, but makes for harsh listening.

Bernard Herrman’s score strums the bass in the low-end, smoother than the treble. Music fills the stereos and rears, while the rest stays strict in the center.

Extras

The UHD and Blu-ray shares the bonuses, and they begin with a 70-minute making-of on the UHD. An intro to a storyboard comparison (and then the comparisons after) is presented by Scorsese himself. A photo gallery and trailer are all that’s left.

The Blu-ray continues with a commentary pulled over from the Criterion disc featuring Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader. Schrader then features in his own commentary, and professor Robert Kolker is on the third. A 2016 Q&A runs close to 40-minutes. Location visits and tributes follow in a flurry of shorter extras, all well produced.

Taxi Driver
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
5

Movie

A masterwork of American political angst and lower class anxieties, Taxi Driver retains its power because its uncomfortable authenticity.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 48 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: