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Raging Bull

1980 film directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro

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Not a biopic, not a sports film, not a BOXING film; A Martin Scorsese picture.

  • Feb 23, 2012
**** out of ****

Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" is a beautiful song. I have heard it in a great many films, because I'm clearly not the only one to feel its divine power; although I think that Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" undoubtedly uses it best. The song plays over the opening credits; to the image of infamous boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) doing a sort of victory dance, punching the air, his actions adored by the on looking photographers outside of the ring that he feels so at home within. This scene - one of great beauty and resonance - not only sets the tone of the rest of the film to come, but it sums up the experience as a whole. Indeed, Mascagni's song is used a few more times throughout the film, but it is in the opening that it feels most effective and strangely haunting. From that moment on, we know what to expect; a man who creates his own problems, his own enemies, and is therefore essentially fighting himself forevermore.

Yes, LaMotta was a boxer, and much of the main plot involves boxing; but this is not a sports film, nor is it one that is particularly "about" boxing. No, Scorsese would never make a movie of such conventions. "Raging Bull" is the work of rebellious genius; one of the few for his times. The film cannot be compared to other sports films - boxing or not - and in a whole, perhaps it also cannot be compared to any other film, period. It exists within its own genre; as it blends many individual categories to create a successful whole. If one could sum it up sweet and simple: it could be called a violent, gritty drama filled to the top with despicable, ugly people.

Scorsese's aim is to capture the rise and fall of LaMotta; not only in his profession, but also (and more importantly) in his personal life. He was the king of the ring for quite some time, and he enjoyed the attention that he garnered. It got him women, and eventually a wife (Cathy Moriarty). It also made way for a closer relationship between him and his brother Joey (Joe Pesci). But Jake's outbursts and inability to control his inner emotions can either make or break relationships just when all seems well. Clearly, LaMotta is emotionally unstable; with the boxing ring and the violence associated with the sport acting as his only emotional outlet aside from his human subjects.

I don't want to go into details; this is such a good film, and I wouldn't want to spoil one bit of it. Let's just say that LaMotta's chemical imbalances that lie beneath his thick skull prove to be his one and only problem in life. He doesn't understand women - so he beats them out of insecurity and anger - and there's a sense throughout the film that he might not understand human beings at all. He certainly doesn't understand himself; if he did, he would try and help himself, but instead he plunges head-first into each troubling situation after another. He is self-destructive, and Scorsese gives us no background as to why; although I'm told that the real-life LaMotta was negatively influenced by his reform school days.

Nevertheless, this is a rich but uncompromising vision of emotional cruelty. We don't like a single one of these characters; we can't sympathize with Jake, because he's mentally ill, knows it, yet doesn't try to stop himself from getting into trouble; we don't particularly like his brother either, due to the fact that he never tries to get his kin some help; and we don't like the wife because frankly, she's like all the other Scorsese girls, and in that sense, she just means more trouble for Jake. If you can't stomach what is a hopeless, thoroughly depressing and bleak two-hour observation of humanity at its most savage; "Raging Bull" might not be for you. But if you consider yourself to be a credible cinephile, it's an essential film that one absolutely must endure at some point in their life.

De Niro is sensational here. His performance as Jake LaMotta is rivaled only by his intense portrayal of Travis Bickle in another famed Scorsese outing, "Taxi Driver". Both characters are lonely and misunderstood; not only by society, but also by way of themselves. There is no doubt something more intriguingly intense about the LaMotta portrayal in contrast to that of Travis Bickle; although keep in mind that I'm comparing two films that are equally as legendary, and two anti-heroes that rival each-other in both spirit and emotional desolation. I believe it to be powerful acting when you can watch an actor like De Niro for as long as Scorsese's film demands in spite of the fact that you find him repulsive; yet not for a minute do you enjoy those moments spent as a voyeur to his madness. And it's not just powerful acting; it's also powerful filmmaking on Scorsese's part. The film is daring and in some ways, kind of original; it surpasses any expectations, as well as any criticisms. It plays out exactly how Scorsese intended it to; in glorious black-and-white, and about as darkly human and emotionally resonant as possible.

The production was ambitious. De Niro plays LaMotta in two separate stages in his life; as does Pesci. They both embody the characters in their glory days as well as their bore-y days. De Niro had to gain 60 pounds to succeed in playing his character in the later days of his life; whilst Pesci actually lost weight to play the character of Joey when the two ill-fated brothers finally meet up near the end of this sad, tragic story. Pesci and De Niro are the heart and soul of the film; not the elaborately staged fight scenes, not the beautiful cinematography, not the expansive and eccentric soundtrack. De Niro and Pesci. They deliver arguably some of the best lines in movie history; a few of which are often times funny, and other times sort of painful, although you'll likely be laughing anyways, even if it hurts. Because in a film that constantly gives the audience a cold shoulder; the only kind of laughter present is that of a somewhat painful variety.

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More Raging Bull reviews
review by . April 21, 2011
Brass Bulls
RAGING BULL Written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin Directed by Martin Scorsese Starring Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty   Jake LaMotta: Hey Ray! Never went down, man. You never got me down, Ray.   When Martin Scorsese’s RAGING BULL was released theatrically in 1980, it was actually not as well received as you might think. Scorsese’s sixth feature film is generally today considered to be one of the best American films ever made but at the time, it was …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
One of the Best Films of all time. Martin Scorsese and Bobby De Niro give there best in the boxing biopic.
review by . August 18, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Grows with every viewing     Cons: Violent     The Bottom Line: I hate the bottom line     I’m not an animal. That’s the sentence repeated by Robert De Niro’s character Jake La Motta while he is breaking down emotionally near the end of Raging Bull. There’s a small hint of irony in the scene because La Motta has spent the first two hours of the movie showing us otherwise.       Martin Scorsese’s …
About the reviewer
Ryan J. Marshall ()
Ranked #11
It's very likely that the only kind of reviews I'll ever post here are movie reviews. I'm very passionate about film; and at this point, it pretty much controls my life. Film gives us a purpose; … more
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