Reviewed by Table 9 Mutant from Cinema Parrot Disco
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Robert De Niro
Running time: 129 minutes
Raging Bull follows the story of Italian American middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta between the years of 1941 to 1964 and how his life was plagued by violence & anger inside as well as outside of the boxing ring.
This is a hard film to review and, to be honest, was quite a hard film to watch. Although they aren’t favorites of mine, I do appreciate and like some of Scorsese’s films (Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The King Of Comedy, The Aviator, The Departed, and the underrated Hugo). But De Niro has been in films that I’ve liked far more than anything he’s done with Scorsese (The Godfather II, The Deer Hunter, Heat). So I guess you can say that I’m a bigger fan of De Niro than of Scorsese, which is a good thing for this blog and, indeed, De Niro was by far the best thing about Raging Bull.
I know that in this blogging community there are those who have pretty extensive knowledge when it comes to filmmaking & there are those who know nothing about filmmaking and just love watching what we consider a good movie & how that makes us feel. I’m one of the latter so I won’t go into any detail on things such as cinematography, etc, when it comes to Raging Bull. It’s a classic & widely considered one of the finest films ever made so there will be plenty of reviews regarding its artistic merit. I can only comment on how I felt while watching it.
Raging Bull was a hard watch for me as I find it difficult to truly enjoy a film if there’s not at least one character I can identify with in the tiniest way or can sympathize with at the very least. Jake LaMotta is possibly one of the most unsympathetic characters I’ve ever watched in a movie. He’s a character I can’t identify with in any way. This film is definitely a good character study, though, which is what I was expecting. The character of Jake LaMotta struggles with extreme anger issues and flies into an intense rage over the smallest things. This film focuses mainly on the years spent with his second wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). He’s extremely possessive and Vickie somehow manages to put up with his sudden unfounded jealous rages that cause him to abuse her verbally and physically. His brother and manager Joey (Joe Pesci) is also intensely loyal to the brother who so often abuses him. Joey & Vickie stand by Jake through it all until things finally go too far. They’re both great characters but, again, they’re not ones I can relate to as I don’t think I’d have put up with the abuse for as long as they both did. But I suppose it’s hard to say for sure how you’d act if it’s a situation you’ve never been in yourself.
I feel like I should at least make a mention of the boxing in this. Although I hate boxing, I love a good film and, when a film is good enough, the subject sometimes doesn’t matter. I recently watched Rush even though I have no interest in racing and I absolutely loved it. So I try to not be dismissive of films and chose Raging Bull as it’s considered such a classic (plus I had to watch it at some point for my own IMDB Top 250 project anyway).
As a girl, it’s fairly likely that I will never understand the appeal of boxing (but I’m sure some girls like it). I dislike all sports but I especially don’t understand boxing. I’ve read a lot about this film since watching it and, if what I read is correct, Scorsese didn’t want to do this film as he didn’t like sports and particularly disliked boxing so I found that very interesting. I have to say he did do an excellent job with this film if that’s how he feels – I can’t imagine making a good film about something that doesn’t interest me. I zoned out during every boxing scene – the close-ups, the blood… (I was glad it was in black & white). But Scorsese did a great job “getting in there” and making it feel more like you were a part of the fight as opposed to a spectator. Perhaps it was better as someone who wasn’t a fan of the sport to make the boxing scenes really show what can be seen as barbarism to those who don’t “get” boxing’s appeal. So well done on that. I can appreciate these scenes but still not “like” them.
So now I finally get to the thing that, to me, made Raging Bull worthy of its critical success. The acting is top notch. I have to say that Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty were great in this, especially considering that they were unknowns before this movie. Pesci of course went on to become famous playing similar roles but I preferred the much more understated performance he gives here as Joey LaMotta to his later “unhinged mob guy” roles. I think Cathy Moriarty did a particularly good job here – I have to say I don’t think I’ve really seen her in anything else but I was impressed by her portrayal as the pretty but “tough broad” Vickie who puts up with LaMotta’s abuse for longer than she should have but also stands up to him without fear. She’s a strong female character, which other Scorsese films often lack.
Robert De Niro:
Oh yeah – I’m meant to mention De Niro’s performance, right? Meh – he was okay. Ha! Just kidding. He’s excellent in Raging Bull and worthy of the Oscar he received. I like Robert De Niro but have to admit that I see him as “Robert De Niro” in most every role he plays. He’s a great actor so that’s not his fault – I feel this way about most famous actors who have been in as many movies as he has. The performance I probably loved the most of his was in The Deer Hunter as it felt very different to other things he’d done & I kind of “forgot” it was him. But I have to say that Raging Bull was the first time I didn’t feel like I was “watching De Niro” – I was watching a guy named Jake LaMotta.
I suppose part of this was helped by the fact that his look was changed so much for this role, especially when he gained 60 pounds to play the older LaMotta. He really immersed himself in this role and it’s evident that he spent a lot of time with the real LaMotta, even going so far as to train and enter into some real middleweight boxing matches (winning two of them and the respect of LaMotta with his talent for boxing). I don’t know anything about Jake LaMotta other than the little bit I’ve read and what I saw in this movie so I can’t say just how accurate De Niro’s portrayal is but he was certainly someone very complex & complicated and managed to convey a sadness behind the violent and abusive lifestyle led by the character.
The final scene is the best and left me feeling a bit sad which was odd as I wasn’t sure how I was meant to feel about Jake LaMotta and certainly felt no sympathy toward his character before that point. Apparently the final scene in the dressing room is thanks to De Niro & Scorsese, who spent time together making some major changes to the script. The final scene & De Niro’s performance in it (plus some of the preceding scenes showing us what LaMotta had become) made me appreciate the film a bit more. I think De Niro made this film a far bigger critical success than it would have been without him.
My Rating: 7.5/10 (Tyson: it has to be even numbers please). I’d definitely give the film a 7.5 but if that’s not allowed, please make it 7 instead of being cheeky & upping it to an 8. lol!