More than four decades have passed since a lean and mean Robert De Niro played the pathological Vietnam veteran-turned-taxi-driver that earned him an Oscar nomination, but now it is being suggested that he may reprise the role.
Reports from the Berlin Film Festival state that De Niro and his director Martin Scorsese – long-time friends and collaborators – are readying themselves for a remake of Taxi Driver, the defining post-Vietnam war film of 1976. The project is said to be developing with the help of the arthouse Danish director Lars von Trier, whose film Antichrist, featuring genital mutilation and graphic rape, generated huge controversy last year. The idea is that De Niro would take the lead role, but it remains to be seen whether the film would be a remake or a sequel, and whether von Trier or Scorsese would sit in the director's chair.
De Niro, now 66, was half his current age when he took on the role of Travis Bickle, a softly spoken New Yorker who, it was suggested, is a Vietnam war veteran – he kept a charred Viet Cong flag in his apartment and had a large scar on his back.
The film begins with Travis as a lonely man living in Manhattan, occasionally writing to his parents to give them the false impression that he is living a fulfilling life as a government employee. He becomes a taxi driver in order to cope with his chronic insomnia, working 12-hour shifts by night, and visiting porn movie theatres by day. Increasingly isolated and unstable, he decides to clean up the streets of New York after he meets a 12-year-old prostitute played by Jodie Foster.
A scene in which De Niro is shown transformed from his former self into a muscle-bound, self-styled vigilante, brandishing automatic guns and having shaved his hair into a Mohawk while glaring at himself in the mirror and asking of his reflection "You talking to me?" is now the stuff of film legend.
As unlikely as the reprisal of this role may at first appear for an older and far less lean De Niro, he is an actor who is known to take on rigorous dietary and exercise regimes for the physical transformations he pulls off on-screen. He put on 60lbs for Raging Bull (also directed by Scorsese) and ground down his teeth for Cape Fear. In preparation for the filming of the 1976 Taxi Driver, he worked as a New York cab driver for three months, an exercise he may now feel he needs to repeat.
While the rumour of a modern version of Taxi Driver has rumbled since 2005, the Danish film magazine Ekko once again opened up the possibility this week. Von Trier's producing partner, Peter Aalbaek, neither confirmed nor denied the report, but he said an official announcement would soon be made, the magazine reported.
Speaking at the Berlin film festival, Scorsese, who won a Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival for the 1976 film, admitted that they had plans to renew their collaboration, hinting at a return to the crime stories that forged their respective reputations.
"Bob De Niro and I are talking about something that has to do with that world. There's no doubt about that. We're working on something like that. But it's from the vantage point of older men looking back. None of this running around stuff," he said.
The rumours originally emerged in January 2005 when the idea of a sequel was mentioned by De Niro and Scorsese at a 25th anniversary screening of Raging Bull in New York. De Niro then spoke about a story in development about an older Travis Bickle.
Fuelling further speculation, the film's screenwriter, Paul Schrader, told the New York Post a few years ago: "I was talking with Martin Scorsese about doing a sequel to Taxi Driver, where [Bickle] is older."
De Niro has starred in eight films by Scorsese, largely as a mobster, beginning with Mean Streets in 1973 and continuing through to Casino in 1995.
The prospect of Scorsese revisiting the scene of, arguably, his greatest movie triumph is being discussed enthusiastically at Berlin. Yet he would not be the first director to revisit a work from his own film history. Alfred Hitchcock made The Man Who Knew Too Much twice, while Michael Haneke made two versions of his film Funny Games: one in his native German, and the other in English.