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3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
A dark chapter in the history of the USA, 15 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

My current obsession with Italian actor Gian Maria Volonté eventually brought me to Giuliano Montaldo's Sacco and Vanzetti, an excellent courtroom drama where Volonté and Riccardo Cucciolla play two anarchists unjustly tried for murder, while it becomes obvious they're in fact being tried for being anarchists, lefties, reds, whatever, in a country that never had any love for them, and in a time that was perhaps the second worst time to be an anarchist/communist/socialist in America after the McCarthy years. This movie is set a few decades before that, but the hysteria and strident violation of civil rights is the same.

Montaldo does a good job directing the movie - for instance the black-and-white opening sequence, with the cops making a raid on an Italian neighbourhood, rounding up men, women and children in front of their buildings, spanking innocent people, and basically acting like vicious animals, is a powerful sequence that immediately sets the theme of abuse of power. Then we have the courtroom scenes, with Cyril Cusack playing a fierce DA seeking to send the two anarchists to the electric chair, Geoffrey Keen playing a clearly bigoted judge, and Milo O'Shea as the defense lawyer who is systematically humiliated, bullied and discredited because he's doing his job too well. When these three actors share a scene you can see sparks fly off the screen! Ennio Morricone provides the music, which is melancholy and elegiac, and Joan Baez contributes with some excellent ballads that are positioned in key moments of the movie. These two together make the score for this movie one of the best I've ever heard.

Gian Maria Volonté is of course excellent: his performance is showier and more furious than Cucciolla's. But then their characters also have different personalities. Whereas Volonté's character, Vanzetti, understands the mythical dimension of his person, realizes that his death will turn him into a symbol of freedom for the new generations, and he's fine with that, Cucciolla plays Sacco, an ordinary man who wants to live and who is having trouble accepting his new condition as a man charged with murder. Cucciolla received a prize in Cannes for his performance in this movie over Volonté and I have to say it wasn't undeserved. His subdued, reserved performance was the right touch that makes him the focus point of the viewer's sympathies.

Sacco and Vanzetti is a great movie, a beautiful movie, that tells an interesting episode about American history that is often ignored - the racism, discrimination and suspicion against immigrants. Like any other country, the USA has an official history that is more mythology than truth, that is inevitable to all nations in their construction of a national identity, but I'm glad there will always be movies like these to continue to deflate the myths and reveal the truth. I just hope there will always be viewers for them too.

No (2012/I)
3 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Excellent Political Drama, 15 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

People can say the Academy is worthless but at the end of the day it is still useful to point me in the direction of a movie I could easily have overlooked. If No hadn't been nominated for an Oscar I probably wouldn't have heard of it, watched. It probably wouldn't even have come out in Portugal. I'm glad it did because it's an excellent political drama about the twilight of Pinochet's regime in Chile.

Gael García Bernal plays René Saveedra, an ad executive who helps a coalition of parties to organize a campaign to vote Pinochet out of power in a referendum. Although Pinochet had ruled Chile for over a decade when, international pressure forced him to take measures to legitimize his regime, hence a referendum to vote YES or NO to his staying in power. This gives a coalition of parties (mainly left-wing, from what I understood) temporary freedom to pass TV spots against his regime. This unusual premise results in a fine movie.

Although García Bernal isn't one of my favourite actors, I have to applaud him for almost carrying the movie alone. He gives a fine, subdued performance, nothing two showy, but efficient. His character is more interested in marketing techniques than politics, and the irony is that he joins the campaign not because of beliefs but because he thinks they're doing a horrible job and he can do better. He takes marketing very seriously. All the other actors are mysteries to me, I've never seen them before, but they do a fine job too. I have to single out Alfredo Castro, who plays Lucho Guzmán, René's boss in the marketing agency. Lucho is an oily, two-faced, cowardly Pinochet sympathizer working in the YES campaign. They're always at each other's throats because René is working for the NO, and their discussions constitute many memorable scenes.

Prior to this movie I had never heard of Pablo Larraín before, but I liked the way he shot this movie. He used a video support from the '80s to make it look like a homemade movie from the era, which is an interesting choice because when the film footage is mixed with the life ad footage of the time, there's almost a complete harmony. As for the screenplay, Pedro Peirano does a good job too. I was amused to learn this was based on a play by Antonio Skármeta, famous for a novel about Pablo Neruda. I though the novel was horrible but at least resulted in a great Italian movie called The Postman.

I'm a huge fan of political movies, whether they be thrillers like Z, satires like In The Loop, or war like The Battle of Algiers, and I think No is a strong addition to this subgenre of cinema. It has drama, it has humour, the dialogue is intelligent, and the discussions about the power of marketing to influence people remain timeless. In fact I liked the fact that movie spent a lot of time going over about marketing techniques - it could only have paid lip service to it and focused only on the characters, but no, this movie shows the decisions ad executives take and what goes in their mind when they're coming up with ads to convince people to buy, do or think something. This view of the profession alone is worth watching the movie.

Capital (2012)
12 out of 16 people found the following review useful:
Passionate fury, but light on aesthetics, 1 May 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Gad Elmaleh plays Marc Tourneuil, an employee at a powerful French bank, the Phénix, who unexpectedly becomes its president when his boss starts dying from cancer. Handpicked by him because he will be easier to control, Tourneuil turns the tables around when he starts going against the board members' wishes. His real challenge, however, comes when Dittmar Rigule (played by Gabriel Byrne), a financer running a hedge fund out of Miami, becomes the Phénix's major stockholder and forces it to adopt American-style wild capitalism. Tourneuil's first mission is to fire around 10,000 people in order to increase the stockholders' profits by 20%. That he does with aplomb, even after organising a world-wide video-conference with every Phénix employee and director to assure them that there will be no massive downsizing. But Tourneuil starts sensing a real threat to his survival when Dittmar insists in him buying a Japanese bank that a report claims to be in serious financial trouble. Guessing Dittmar's plan to make him look incompetent while debilitating the Phénix with a ruinous hostile takeover that will guarantee the Miami hedge fund to gain total control of it, Tourneuil puts into practice a two-faced scheme not so much to save his bank but to make sure he comes out of the battle as its de facto leader.

In our current economic climate, one has to wonder about the wisdom of making the hero an immoral, selfish banker who calls himself a modern Robin Hood, stealing from the poor so the rich may become richer. Tourneuil shows off his affluence without moral pangs for the lives he destroys, and his daily existence is a series of globe-trotting journeys to exotic places like Tokyo and Miami, where he hangs out at luxurious parties with models. He cheats on his wife (Natacha Régnier), rapes a fashion model (Liya Kebede), and belittles the optimism of one of his employees (Céline Sallette) not long after he had made her believe he shared her moral values. Add to Tourneuil's loathsome personality and actions Elmaleh's cold stare and stony facial expressions, and you have a protagonist who is only the hero because the villains, the predatory Miami bankers, are much worse. Elmaleh is so bland one presumes if has to be part of the acting. Perhaps it's Costa-Gavras' intention to totally dehumanize the banking class. Be as it may, Elmaleh comes off as a poor man's Alan Delon, no emotion in his icy blue eyes, but no charisma either.

The vicious, ambiguous Tourneuil is in the vein of Costa-Gavras' previous anti-hero from The Axe. In this movie an upper-middle class executive is fired during his company's downsizing. After two years unemployed, he starts killing his competitors for job vacancies. It's a lovely dark comedy that constantly asks the viewer why he should care about this ruthless bastard getting a job when there are millions of better people with worse lives in the same desperate situation. I think perhaps it's because we don't care about poor people anymore. Decades ago – I mean the turbulent and hopeful sixties and seventies – people believed in class war, people even had had and though the world could be made a better place. But we live in an age when the media vehemently say class war does not exist, and instead scares us into thinking the world is a cesspit that will remain a cesspit because we're too insignificant to make a difference. And perhaps they're right. So in this atomised environment, the poor are poor because they want to not because of circumstances beyond their power, we are frequently told. And although in the past one could feel sympathy for them, nowadays we feel disgusted by them. We don't like poor people, we don't want to see them, we don't want to think about them. We admire the rich, the famous, the powerful, we want to be them. So instead of wanting to make the viewer feel sad about the wretched, when that shtick doesn't work anymore in our selfish era, Costa-Gavras shows how he thinks the rich think and live, and then asks, "Are these your modern heroes, are these the people you want to be? Are you really capable of rooting for these scumbags?" The message is interesting, but the actual execution lacks merit and sounds too preachy to seduce any viewer who reasonably doesn't like to be lectured without a good dose of entertainment to wash it down. The characters' motivations are frequently sketchy, many characters are one-dimensional, and the dialogue is peppered with too many corny aphorisms that lack the depth the screenwriters mistakenly think they have.

In 1969 Z, a fast-paced thriller about the investigation into the murder of a left-wing Greek candidate, won two Academy awards, was a worldwide success and catapulted the director into stardom. In the seventies, working with screenwriters Jorge Semprún and Franco Solinas, he made several good movies: The Confession, State of Siege, Special Section. Each showcased his knack for exciting montages, clever humour, polemical topics and entertaining story lines, and although they never met with Z's success they were at least every bit as watchable. But starting in the eighties his career started decaying, his movies losing their panache and becoming bland vehicles to vent his moral and social outrage. The fury started compromising the artistry. The world today isn't very different than the world of the young filmmaker who made Z and State of Siege. But I think it's time for a new generation of politically-committed filmmakers to bear the torch, with Costa-Gavras's fierce passion but also the skills he displayed decades ago. Then we can have intelligent and relevant political cinema again. If art has the power to change the world, and I believe it has that power, it must be an art of a greater aesthetic value than Le Capital.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Just Watch It For Laurence Olivier, 12 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Marathon Man is not a very good movie. The seventies, which were cinema's greatest age of thrillers, produced many movies that could teach this hodgepodge mess of a movie a thing or two about pacing, editing and storytelling. I don't even know where to begin with this absurd story.

Dustin Hoffman, around 39 when he starred in the movie, implausibly plays Babe Levy, a college student. Throughout the movie the awkward age of the actor sticks like a sore thumb. But the character himself is bizarre. He's running for the marathon, although that seems to have nothing to do with the plot per se (the one moment when he uses his training to escape a bad guy, his pursuer, clearly in worse physical shape than him, nearly catches him). Levy is traumatized by the suicide of his father, a historian who fell in disgrace because of McCarthy's communist witch hunts. It's an interesting background, but it seems to belong in another character and another movie. And his brother, Doc (played by Roy Scheider), is a secret agent working for a governmental organization that somehow keeps track of Nazi criminals.

The action starts when the brother of a notorious Nazi fugitive, Dr. Szell, dies in an accident in New York. Szell's brother, another Nazi, was stupid enough to go around shouting racist slurs at a Jew in a Jewish neighbourhood, attracting his ire and causing a moronic car accident. I don't presume to be able to get inside the head of Nazi fugitives, but I have serious difficulty believing one would be attracting so much attention on himself in the middle of New York, especially after he just retrieved a tin can full of diamonds to be delivered to his brother in Uruguay. Marathon Man is the proverbial thriller where you have to leave your brain at the door to enjoy it, proud precursor of Michael Bay. It pains me to write this of the director of Midnight Cowboy and the screenwriter of All The President's Men, but that's the hard truth.

So Szell travels to New York to retrieve the rest of his diamonds, and this is where the story gets really confusing. Doc's agency apparently works with Szell, who gives them information on other Nazis in return for being left alone. What is never made clear is what is Doc's role in all this, what are the feelings of his parter, Janeway, over his murder since he's obviously a participant in it, or why Szell uses a student called Elsa to watch over Babe. It's not so much that the movie is confused, rather it's confused, it doesn't understand itself, it rushes into each scene instead of lingering over a single dialogue that explains anything.

In the end, Marathon Man is just a collection of exciting scenes barely glued together by the ghost of a plot. We have exciting scenes galore: Babe trapped inside his bathroom as thugs try to break into it; a woman chasing Szell as she recognises him from Auschwitz; the infamous torture scene with dentist instruments; and more, lots more. It's just a pity that none segues rationally into the next. This is pure escapism, but so was The Day of the Jackal and The Parallax View, and they're infinitely better written and edited. It's really disturbing to imagine that this movie was written by William Goldman, who the same year rightfully won the Oscar for All The President's Men. It seems he only has enough talent for one intelligent script per year.

Dustin Hoffman was far from amazing in this, certainly not as great as in All The President's Men or Lenny (1974). Roy Scheider, William Davane and Marthe Keller give efficient performances. The only shining moment acting-wise is Laurence Olivier, who gives one of his most chilling performances as Dr. Szell, the Nazi dentist. Olivier gave many great performances in his final decade, and this role is up there with his work in Sleuth and The Boys from Brazil. Everything I heard about him in this movie is absolutely true, and he remains the best reason to watch this movie.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
A not so simple murder story, 12 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Una Storia Semplice is the last of four film adaptations of Leonardo Sciascia's books that Gian Maria Volonté starred in in his prolific career. He was 58 and his role was but a supporting role, but it's still enjoyable to see this extraordinary Italian actor at the end of his career (he died three years later, in 1994).

The movie, directed by Emidio Greco, is, like in most Sciascia adaptations, a murder mystery. Once again we're back in Sicily, the author's birthplace, and the local police is investigating the death of an old man in an inhospitable villa outside town. With a bullet hole in his forehead and an old gun lying on the floor, the authorities are anxious to write it off as suicide, except the tenacious Brigadier Lepri (Ricky Tognazzi) refuses to drop the case until the truth is ascertained.

The movie, however, is less concerned with truth than with the atmosphere of silence and class prejudices that govern Sicilian society's views on crime and justice. Not investigating murder is safer since you never know if the criminals involved aren't important pillars of society, and going against such people is always a pain in the ass. With that in mind, the end of the movie is darkly humorous for its bleak cynicism.

Una Storia Semplice is a simple movie and hardly to impress itself on viewers' minds. The plot is relatively straightforward, the camera work is conventional. The best thing the movie has in its favour is the dialogues, with the usual Sciascia wit, and the performances. Volonté plays an aging teacher who knows the victim and helps in the investigation. We also have Ennio Fantastichini (he had co-starred with Volonté before in Porte Aperte) as a shifty chief of police, and Ricky Tognazzi as the suffering honest cop who wants to get to the bottom of the murder.

The movie benefits from Sicily's natural landscapes, I'm always amused by the fact that such a beautiful place has acted so often as the setting of gruesome murders in Italian movies. Although Una Storia Semplice is hardly essential cinema, it is worth watching once.

Open Doors (1990)
3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Gian Maria Volonté's Anti-Death Penalty Movie, 11 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Although Leonardo Sciascia may be a name that means nothing to most viewers, he was a brilliant Italian novelist of Sicilian origins who acted as his country's moral consciousness for several decades, writing novels and short-stories that analysed Italy's Mafia, the fascist years, and the recrudescence of totalitarianism during the chaotic 'years of lead' during the '60s and '70s. So popular and extraordinary were the novels of this first-rate storyteller, that many of them were turned into movies, and quite good in their right.

Porte Aperte, based on one of his final novellas, concerns an elderly judge burdened with the responsibility of trying a multiple murderer. It's 1938, the Fascists are in power and Italy is re-enacting the death penalty again, in order to show the regime's strength and zero tolerance with crime. Judge Vito Di Francesco, although not an anti-fascist, isn't ready to simply sentence the defendant to death. Carefully and meticulously, he tries to understand the motives of the killer and to find a way of reducing the penalty to life imprisonment. Against him is the regime, which wants an example of swift justice, and the defendant himself, who demands to be executed.

This movie, to me, has flaws and weaknesses that need to be quickly addressed. I found the killer's motives to demand the death penalty unclear: was he making a political point? Was he holding the regime's inhumanity to their eyes? I never understood what motivated him to act in such a suicidal manner. I also found it hard to sympathise with the plight of a man sentenced to death who himself had killed four people, including his wife, right after raping her. But perhaps a point of the movie was just that – that even the most vicious criminals have a right to live.

Otherwise, the movie is quite solid and watchable. As a court room drama, the movie is slow-paced and introspective rather than frantic and bombastic. There are some fine verbal skirmishes between the judge and the witnesses and the defendant, but otherwise the movie focus a lot on his doubts and attempts at finding a loophole to save the man from execution.

Gian Maria Volonté, the great Italian actor, plays the judge, and needless to say he brings the gravitas and serenity required for the character. Although Volonté is mainly known as El Indio from Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More, movies like Porte Aperte were really the sort of movies he preferred to star in. Volonté took seriously the '60s and '70s call to artists and intellectuals to join the revolutionary struggle. Whatever people may think of that nowadays, it led to Volonté starring in many fine movies with a political tinge: Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, Todo Modo (another Sciascia adaptation, and hilariously and chillingly prophesying the murder of Italian prime-minister Aldo Moro), Ogro, The Working Class Goes To Heaven, etc. Watching Porte Aperte, however, I was taken aback at his age and frail look. Knowing him mainly from when he was a younger actor, filling his performances with rage and energy, it was a surprise to see him still deliver such a nuanced and powerful performance just a few years before his death.

Network (1976)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Chayefski's Prophetic Masterpiece, 11 April 2013

The magical year of 1976 that gave us masterpieces like Taxi Driver, All The President's Men and Novecento also gave us Network, one of the most prophetic movies ever made.

When Howard Beale, a mentally insane TV anchorman with falling ratings, announces that he's going to commit suicide live on the last day of his job, he suddenly becomes a media sensation and the surprise hit the flagging network needs to improve its ratings. Diana Christensen, head of the network's programming department, convinces her boss, Hackett, to allow her to turn Beale into a modern day prophet to articulate the American public's anger, cynicism, and disenchantment with Vietnam, Watergate, the recession, etc.

Beale is a good and prescient example of networks co-opting counterculture: as he stands on a stage, with a church window behind him, delivering his rants, he doesn't understand that he's but the puppet of a network that has turned indignation and radicalism into fashionable entertainment. There's absolutely nothing different between Beale and all our modern-day radicals who've sold out to vested interests while thinking they're working outside and against the system. But this is just one of the most prophetic ironies of the movie.

There are more. It wouldn't take a stretch of the imagination to expect one day networks to kill people for ratings, like the movie suggests. The recent scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch's News of the World newspaper already point us in that direction: they didn't kill anyone, but they sure as hell had no moral qualms interfering with police investigations that had human lives at stake. Just give the media time, they'll turn this movie's prophecy reality.

But perhaps the best prophecy of the movie comes in the form of the speech delivered by the CCA chairman, Arthur Jensen. After Beale informs the audience that UBS network has been bought by CCA, a conglomerate owned by Saudi Arabians, Jensen calls Beale to his darkened room where he explains to him how the real modern world works. "There are no nations. There are no peoples. There are no Russians. There are no Arabs. There are no third worlds. There is no West. There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars. Petro-dollars, electro-dollars, multi-dollars, reichmarks, rins, rubles, pounds, and shekels. It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet. That is the natural order of things today." This is but one part of the speech but it's one of the most accurate things ever written in cinema! And it's hilariously delivered by Ned Beatty, who on account of this single scene got himself a much deserved Oscar nomination.

In fact this movie is full of great acting from start to finish, the cast imposes respect: Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, Peter Finch, William Holden, and Beatrice Straight, a fine mixture of veterans at the end of their illustrious careers (Finch in fact died shortly after the movie and received an Oscar for his performance as mad prophet Beale), and excellent young actors who had been carving names for themselves for the past decade. Sydney Lumet draws legendary performances from all of them. His minimalist style, without flashy camera angles and music, allows the viewer to focus the viewer solely on the actors delivering Paddy Chayefsky's brilliant lines back and forth. I've seen his three Oscar-winning movies, and this is Chayefsky's crowning achievement, a black satire that did nothing less than predict the modern world.

Mafia (1968)
A classic movie about the mafia, 10 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

I keep getting pulled into these film adaptations of Leonardo Sciascia's novels and I never cease to wonder at their fine quality. Sciascia was an Italian novelist from Sicily, famous for being one of the first writers to openly write about the Mafia, a subject that in the early '60s was still prickly, in fact many still denied the Mafia existed when The Day of the Owl was published in 1961. Today this criminal organization is an incontrovertible fact, which perhaps affects the impact this film adaptation has on modern viewers.

I would still heartily recommend this movie to fans of the crime genre on the simple fact it remains a gripping and well-written crime drama. Franco Nero plays Bellodi, a police captain recently transferred to Sicily, where he's slowly learning the ropes. Full of new ideas and a passionate attitude, he tries to rip the veil of silence that covers Mafia hits when the owner of a construction company shows up murdered. As always everyone denies having seen anything. His only possible witness is a man who lives in a house nearby the murder scene; but he's nowhere to be found, and his wife, Rosa (played by Claudia Cardinale), doesn't know where he's gone to.

Bellodi not only has to investigate a murder that leads to one of the most important men in the town, Don Marino (played by Lee J. Cobb), the local Mafia don, but he also has to untangle the truth from the lies surrounding the case, since the Mafia tries to hide the true motives of the murder by making it look like a crime of passion involving Rosa, the victim and Rosa's wayward husband – in that society honour can be conveniently used to cover up all crimes.

Nero, Cardinale and Cobb are excellent, and the other actors, mainly unknown Italian actors, do a great job bringing the movie to life too. The movie doesn't have a boring moment, and the intellectual conflict between Bellodi and Don Mariano is gripping. The movie, being one of the first ones to tackle the Mafia, uses many tropes that since then have become trademarks of the genre – the cop willing to bend the rules a little for justice, for instance, but more importantly the sense that the Mafia is an unbeatable opponent, too rich and powerful ever to be brought down. Compared to American movies, this one is quite pessimistic, but then again the Mafia in America is not half as chilling as it is in Italy and Sicily.

1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One of the best in the genre, 10 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

1976 was a magical year for cinema: Scorsese's Taxi Driver, Bertolucci's Novecento, Bergman's Face to Face, Polanski's The Tenant, Zurlini's The Desert of the Tartars, Bozzetto's Allegro non Troppo. No doubt many other masterpieces came out that year, but although I can't remember or know them all, there's one I'm not likely ever to forget: All The President's Men.

The seventies were being a good decade for Alan J. Pakula: he had already made two excellent movie, first the crime drama Klute (1971), for which Jane Fonda got her first Oscar, and then the paranoid extravaganza The Parallax View (1974), still very entertaining, and gorgeous to look at thanks to Gordon Willis' cinematography. The Parallax View starred a journalist (a brash performance by Warren Beatty) trying to untangle a vast governmental/corporate conspiracy that involved brain-washed assassins. His next movie, as a way of conclude this loose trilogy, was also a story about journalists uncovering a conspiracy on the higher echelons of government – what makes it infinitely more disturbing is that it is all true.

No one should have to live in a world where it's perfectly reasonable to write that this movie is about two journalists thwarting the sinister machinations of corrupt American President Richard Nixon, but we're not to blame if truth more often than not looks like a rejected Jamed Bond plot. Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford give extraordinary performances (Redford especially; Hoffman is undoubtedly a greater actor, so it's more exciting when Redford admiringly holds his ground against him) playing Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, two journalists for The Washington Post who investigate the Watergate break-in and slowly unravel a presidential conspiracy that, in time, would lead to Nixon himself. Around them is a cast of some of the best actors from America's past and some still going strong nowadays: Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Jason Robards, Ned Beatty, Jane Alexander. The movie was written by William Goldman, and many of the crewmembers were regular Pakula collaborators: David Shire on the music, bringing adding his chilling and minimalist style to the atmosphere of the movie, and DP Gordon Willis lighting and framing each frame with the usual artistry that he displayed in The Godfather trilogy.

All The President's Men is an intelligent, slow-paced but tense political thriller that honours the best done in the genre – this may well be America's response to Costa-Gavras' superb Z (1969) – and that has left a mark too on all that followed – think of The Insider and State of Play, for instance. This movie pretty much helped codify the language and tropes of things we expect to see in movies of this type – journalists fearing for their lives, a non-cooperative government, night conversations in dark garages, leaked documents, the inner workings of newspapers. There's nothing clichéd here, though, each scene and trope still has vitality not only for inventing them in the first place but for setting such a high standard for imitators.

Perfect, even for '70s standards, 10 April 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Although I've seen Taxi Driver many times, on TV and on DVD, today I had the rare opportunity of watching it on the big screen, seated in a dark theatre room, the way all movies should be seen. No matter how many times I watch the movie, and in whatever conditions, I never cease to be amazed at this movie, at its boldness, at the fact it exists at all. The '70s are my favourite era of film, both in American and around the world, and for me Taxi Driver is one of its most magnificent achievements, so many decades later still towering over many of that decade's masterpieces, so ahead of its time the tribulations of the protagonist still disturb modern viewers by how prescient and immediate they are.

Robert DeNiro plays Travis Bickle, a Vietnam veteran who can't sleep at nights and drives around, and so he may as well do that for money. Bickle is lonely, socially inept, almost always wears his army jacket, his name written on the back, a part of his identity he clings to tenaciously. Bickle is the proverbial nobody, but in his slowly-decaying mind he conjures thoughts of becoming a great man, of doing something important. His thoughts, though, are as blurry as his conversational skills and he's not sure what he wants to achieve, what ideas are those. Nevertheless constantly writes in his diary that he wants to clean up the city, which is an open sewer full of filth, and the movie slowly shows Bickle changing into a megalomaniac vigilante with delusions of grandeur. The movie, and Bickle, are preparing the viewer for a spectacular finale, and they don't disappoint.

Although the movie makes it clear Bickle is slightly unbalanced from the first moment we see him, applying to a job as a cabbie (in a short but memorable scene with Joe Spinell), it doesn't bother trying to give reasons, or any background on his past life. His hatred for lowlifes, pushers, prostitutes and pimps isn't a cause but just something his already deranged brain focuses to release his anger. When he tries to be an ordinary man, and find love and companionship, we see how out of his element he is. His conversations with other cabbies are always tense and awkward. And when he tries to date Betsy, a woman (Cybill Shepherd) involved in a campaign to get Senator Palantine elected as President, she breaks up with him when he casually takes her to a porn movie. When his experiments at normalcy fail, he concentrates his efforts and money to remake himself into a vigilante with a confused plan to murder Palantine on vague motives (Bickle's mind is hazy, the movie never is – it just puts the viewer right in his head, which probably makes not a lot of sense even to himself) before becoming obsessed with saving a teenage prostitute (Jodie Foster) from her smooth-talking pimp (Harvey Keitel).

Every scene and line in this movie is carefully thought to show Bickle's deranged state of mind and to carefully and thoroughly chronicle his descent into suicidal madness. Few movies are more perfect than Taxi Driver in bringing together all aspects of filmmaking into a perfect whole. Lawrence of Arabia, Chinatown and 2001: A Space Odyssey before, and a handful since. It's a marvel to see it unwind before your eyes: the dialogue, the performances of everyone, the shots of New York at night, Bernard Herrmann's half romantic half bleak score so often perfectly mirroring and enhancing Bickle's state of mind. Although DeNiro is to commend for this performance, undoubtedly the best of his career, all the other actors are equally excellent, from Shepherd to Foster, from Keitel to a young Albert Brooks in a short but wonderfully comical role. Martin Scorsese's direction was perhaps never this crisp and accurate again, and Paul Schrader never wrote such a remarkable screenplay again. It's clear on every scene that these men and women brought their best talent to the movie, and thanks to their hard work we've been graced with one of the best movies ever made.

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