Friday, July 15, 2022

“48 Hrs.” and “Taxi Driver”: The Buddies and the Loner

July appears to be my month for violent movies. Within the past week I’ve watched both 48 Hrs. (1982) and Taxi Driver (1976). I was impressed by them both, but the first strikes me as a guilty pleasure. And the second, alas, seems like a wake-up call.

 The success of 48 Hrs. at the box office helped kick off the whole buddy cop genre (see, for instance, the Lethal Weapon franchise). The pairing of big, burly, taciturn Nick Nolte and small, slim, gabby Eddie Murphy (in his very first movie role) also showed how the unlikely pairing of a white man and a Black one in Stanley Kramer's The Defiant Ones could evolve into the kind of spiky but eventually comedic relationship epitomized by action romps featuring Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. But 48 Hrs. is no comedy. And Murphy’s character, Reggie, is not actually a cop. Instead, he’s a convict, a career thief released from prison for (yes!) 48 hours in order to help track down a vicious former associate who’s done him dirt.

  It's an unlikely premise, but one that plays exceedingly well, as Reggie butts up against Nolte’s my-way-or-the-highway Jack. Wearing a spiffy Armani suit and (after three celibate years in prison) endlessly on the hunt for willing females, Reggie eventually reveals that he’s deft enough and brave enough to help face down a killer. In this he wins the respect of Jack, a rumpled mass of a man who’s got his own female troubles and not much support from his superiors. Respect between Reggie and Jack grows slowly, though the early interactions between the two are laced with nasty jibes and racial epithets that are hard to enjoy. We know, of course, that all will be right in the end, though they still enjoy jerking one another’s chain up until the final fadeout. (Yes, the relationship survives in a 1990 sequel.) 

 Director Walter Hill is best known for action, and the film’s opening – a bold escape from a penal work camp, accompanied by James Horner’s thrilling music -- may be its most viscerally effective part. It’s rivaled by the lethal wrap-up in a misty San Francisco Chinatown haunt. But the centerpiece, of course is two mismatched men who find themselves becoming pals.

 Which brings me to Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s deeply disturbing look at a military veteran adrift in the urban jungles of New York City. Unable to sleep, Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle takes a job as an all-night cab driver, cruising through Manhattan’s meanest, dirtiest, most crime-ridden streets. His is a solitary life. When a social relationship with a pretty blonde working on a political campaign (Cybill Shepherd) fizzles, he becomes obsessed with rescuing a child prostitute (Jodie Foster) from her sordid line of work. It’s easy enough for him to assemble an arsenal of weapons, and to transform himself into a muscle-bound mohawk-wearing killing machine with hair-trigger reflexes and a grudge against pretty much everyone. By the end of the film he is a lethal weapon, though a bizarre twist turns him into someone’s idea of a public hero.

 Bickle’s soul-crushing loneliness, combined with obvious PTSD from his Marine Corps days, makes him all too ripe to see himself as a potential toxic avenger. The ready availability of military-style fire power is what inspires him to take into his own hands the idea of cleaning up the world. Sadly, there are too many others out there today whose minds work in the same deadly fashion. If only our nation weren’t so ready to sell them the tools to fuel their obsessions. 


No comments:

Post a Comment