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Face-Off: Taxi Driver vs. Nightcrawler

04.19.2016by: Brian Bitner
In our previous Face-Off, we looked at two classic 1980's sci-fi films, BLADE RUNNER and THE TERMINATOR. While several of you agreed with my decision to (just barely) give it to BLADE RUNNER, more of you scanned your possible responses and promptly selected "f*ck you, asshole." I certainly won't argue with your preference, and it was great to chat with some of you in the comments about the excellent points you made.

As for this week, it's not often a film gets put into the same category as Martin Scorsese's TAXI DRIVER. Scorsese and writer Paul Schrader teamed up again for 1999's BRINGING OUT THE DEAD, which might as well have been called AMBULANCE DRIVER, but the film certainly didn't live up to its spiritual predecessor. In 2014, however, Dan Gilroy's NIGHTCRAWLER saw a vicious Jake Gyllenhaal cruising the streets of LA at night in search of grisly news footage. Many have compared Gilroy's directorial debut to Scorsese's classic, so let's see how the two stack up!
LEAD
Robert De Niro's Travis Bickle is still one of the most recognizable and quoted characters in the history of cinema. From his more introverted moments to his heartbreaking attempts to live a normal life to his eventual manic transformation, De Niro beautifully takes us through a whole host of emotions.
Man, I really want to call this one a tie. Jake Gyllenhaal's Louis Bloom is a fascinating and terrifying character, and the actor's performance is one of the most captivating aspects of the film. Because the point of the character is how one-note he is, though, we just don't get the range or complexity we get with Bickle.
SUPPORTING CAST
Peter Boyle as Wizard
Albert Brooks as Tom
Jodie Foster as Iris
Harvey Keitel as Sport
Cybill Shepherd as Betsy

...and an amazing cameo by Martin Scorsese as the creepiest fare ever
Bill Paxton as Joe Loder
Rene Russo as Nina Romina
Riz Ahmed as Rick
Kevin Rahm as Frank Kruse
CBSLA News Team as KWLA News Team
PLOT
A depressed, ex-marine New Yorker takes a job as a taxi driver to deal with insomnia, driving passengers by night, semi-stalking a campaign volunteer by day, and attempting to rescue a teenage prostitute along the way.
An ambitious small time criminal stumbles into a career as a freelance cameraman, stopping at nothing to get disturbing footage for a Los Angeles news channel, even if it means causing some disorder of its own.

Giving NIGHTCRAWLER the edge on this one due to the focused nature of the plot. TAXI DRIVER's story is, of course, phenomenal, but the plot feels a little disjointed, with the two main storylines only connecting insofar as they affect Travis' transformation.
WRITING
Basing the script on Albert Camus' The Stranger, Paul Schrader gives us a haunting look into Travis' head, with the protagonist's real world interactions coming across lonely and desperate and his inner monologue a beautifully disturbing poetry, with the two unstable elements mixing together for an explosive finale.
Dan Gilroy's script is sharp, poignant, and wildly entertaining. If there's anything negative to say here, it's that the whole thing comes off as a little over the top. Maybe it's the price of a well-paced story, but everything seems to happen very conveniently, with Louis always being in the right place or getting the right information at the right time.
DIRECTING
Martin Scorsese directs one of the first major films of his career and possibly the first to earn him a place among the greats. TAXI DRIVER drips with so much mood and grit, it could be argued a little levity would allow for a more balanced film, but Scorsese wants us to live in Travis' brain, which means darkness, rain, and a whole lot of ugly.
Maybe calling this one a tie is a bit generous, but for his first directing gig, Dan Gilroy and cinematographer Robert Elswit show a mastery of visuals and mood, blending a modern, digital feel with very dark undertones in a style that would make Michael Mann proud. As a result, even the more static scenes look and feel exciting.
SCORE
Legendary composer Bernard Herrmann's final score was for TAXI DRIVER, earning him a posthumous Oscar nomination. Herrmann's moody soundtrack adds elements of film noir, mystery, sexuality, and even playfulness to a dark and gritty film.
James Newton Howard brings his usual brilliance to the NIGHTCRAWLER score, creating an uneasy tension throughout and a pulsing immediacy to the film's more thrilling moments.
FINALE
The finale of TAXI DRIVER is both upsetting and heartbreaking. Travis fails to assassinate Senator Palantine, awkwardly shoots his way through Sport and his goons, and finally attempts to take his own life only to find himself out of bullets. It's directed a bit oddly and goes too quickly to feel as satisfying as the rest of the film, though. TAXI DRIVER builds so much tension that it just feels like there should be a little more of a payoff.
It's hard not to watch NIGHTCRAWLER with a perverse, voyeuristic eye, wondering just how dark and far the story will go. When Louis orchestrates a shootout, putting innocent lives in danger and letting his partner die in the process, we are treated to exactly the ending we both hoped and feared for and have a very clear understanding of what the film has to say.
BOX OFFICE & ACCOLADES
IMDB: 8.3
Rotten Tomatoes: 99% (Audience Score: 93%)
Metacritic: 93 (User Score: 6.9)
Domestic Total Gross: $27,300,000

4 Oscar nominations, 2 Golden Globe Nominations, 4 BAFTA nominations, and 1 BAFTA win

Normally I wouldn't bring box office into the equation for two movies that came out so far apart, but that 27 million, just shy of NIGHTCRAWLER's 32 million, equates to something like 110 million today, which is pretty damn impressive.
IMDB: 7.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 95% (Audience Score: 85%)
Metacritic: 76 (User Score: 8.6)
Domestic Total Gross: $32,381,217

1 Oscar nomination, 1 Golden Globe nomination, 4 BAFTA nominations
JUST FOR FUN
TAXI DRIVER
Not surprising that Scorsese's tour de force takes this one down, but it's important to note how cool it is that movies are starting to recapture the mood that made so many 1970's classics work. Granted, many films of that era have huge pacing problems by today's standards, but there is a realism and immediacy that are often left unparalleled by modern cinema. Dan Gilroy hasn't had the best track record as a screenwriter, but NIGHTCRAWLER certainly has me interested in his next directorial effort, and Scorsese's SILENCE looks to have all the makings of another Marty masterpiece.

Agree? Disagree? Which do you prefer?
POST YOUR CHOICE BELOW!

If you have a suggestion for a future Face-Off, let us know below or send me an email at brianbitner@joblo.com.

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