A bloated yet sporadically electrifying drama, Taxi Driver follows Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle as he becomes increasingly disillusioned with New York City’s sleazy decadence – with the movie charting the mentally-unbalanced character’s descent into aggression and violence. Filmmaker Martin Scorsese does a superb job of immediately luring the viewer into the proceedings, as Taxi Driver, which kicks off with an engrossing job interview sequence between Travis and a gruff personnel officer (Joe Spinell), boasts a fairly mesmerizing opening stretch that’s heightened by De Niro’s commanding performance and Scorsese’s inventive, eye-catching visuals. The movie’s subsequent transformation into a thoroughly subdued character study is jarring, to say the least, as Scorsese and scripter Paul Schrader deliver a midsection that emphasizes De Niro’s character’s low-key, day-to-day exploits (eg Travis attempts to woo a local campaign worker, Travis makes small talk with a porn-theater employee, etc, etc). Scorsese does, however, keep things interesting by emphasizing a number of palpably enthralling interludes, including an impressively tense sequence in which Travis picks up a man (Scorsese) convinced that his wife is cheating on him, and it’s clear that the violent third act packs just as potent a punch today as it surely did back in 1976. It’s equally clear, unfortunately, that Taxi Driver suffers from a progressively meandering narrative that grows more and more problematic as time progresses, with, especially, the third-act subplot involving Travis’ friendship with Jodie Foster’s young prostitute fizzling out long before it reaches its inevitable conclusion – which, in the end, ensures that the film never quite becomes the consistently hypnotic endeavor one might’ve expected and hoped for.
**1/2 out of ****