Each week, this column will cover one film on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 greatest American films of all time, covering my general thoughts on the film and whether or not I think it belongs on the list. You can also see my personal ranking here. To celebrate Noirvember, I’ll be covering some remaining film noir from the list. This week’s film is #52 on the list: Taxi Driver (1976).
I worried that calling Taxi Driver a neo-noir would be a stretch, but my concern dissipated almost instantly. By employing some classic genre conventions—alienated protagonist surrounded by a world of crime, voice over narration, a moody saxophone theme, etc.—Scorsese makes his psychological thriller far more complex. We initially follow Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) as we would a private investigator in a typical noir film, which leads the audience to initially sympathize with him. We excuse his eccentricities and unstable psyche, because film noir is full of flawed leading men, but Scorsese is weaponizing our expectations against us, which makes the eventual realization that Bickle is psychotic more psychologically disturbing. It also features some of the most vibrant filmmaking of Scorsese’s career, especially his early work, and a career-best performance from De Niro.
Does It Belong on the List?
Since this is the final of his films on the list, the real question is “which Scorsese films belong on the list?” My personal favorite is The Color of Money, but I can’t make the argument for its significance on a list of the greatest American films (and there are a few better films that achieve/represent what I love about it), so the three I would include are: The Wolf of Wall Street, The Departed, and yes, Taxi Driver.