Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull (1980)

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Wallop!
Wallop!

Twitter Plot Summary: A biopic of tough boxer Jake La Motta, portrayed with unerring method acting by Robert De Niro.

Five Point Summary:

1. 1941 boxing. Looks a bit… hmm.
2. Thin De Niro.
3. Blood splatter.
4. Accusations and the decline of his career.
5. Fat De Niro.

Scorsese and De Niro reunited for a fourth time for the 1980 classic Raging Bull. De Niro goes full method as Jake La Motta, a boxer who in 1941 is on the ascendance within the sport. The film then follows his life and career, demonstrating how the skills and temperament to succeed in boxing may not necessarily translate to a happy home life. Many of De Niro’s characters under Scorsese’s watchful eye are quick to anger and inherently jealous of the woman and/or women in his life, and La Motta is no different. More often than not he is jealous of his wife, his brother and indeed almost everybody else, and prone to throwing a few punches when his anger gets the better of him. From one perspective it’s easy to spot how truly insecure the man may have actually been, despite his physically imposing persona.

Joe Pesci plays La Motta’s brother Joey, and turns in as strong a performance as De Niro. It’s of no surprise that Pesci would collaborate with Scorsese and De Niro again several times in the future. Joey is a necessary cog in the development of La Motta’s boxing career, acting as his manager, and his absence also no doubt led to his eventual decline.

Scorsese has a penchant for stories where there is a certain level of moral dubiousness to the lead character, and Raging Bull is no different with La Motta showing a physical interest in a fifteen year old girl, Vickie, played with gusto by Cathy Moriarty. Vickie slowly morphs from an impressionable teenager into a strong woman, perhaps more out of necessity than design.

Lying down on the job is usually frowned upon.
Lying down on the job is usually frowned upon.

There’s a certain poetry to both the fight sequences as well as Scorsese’s direction in general, frequently mixing the hard hitting impact of the boxing ring with mock home video footage of La Motta’s life outside of the ring. These sequences also mark the only time when the film moves into colour, a bold and hard hitting stylistic choice that may have had more to do with the blood splattering the boxing ring more than anything else.

Raging Bull is an unapologetic biography of La Motta, a man who clearly had his fair share of demons and seems to have had no problems with this being portrayed in the film. Without wanting to lapse into boxing puns, it’s as hard-hitting as La Motta himself, a twelve (or fifteen) round slugfest of competitive spirit, emotional insecurity and relationship troubles.

It’s a supremely confident production from Scorsese, and may mark his finest work to date. If there are any flaws to be considered, it’s in the relatively rushed final act as La Motta seeks alternative methods of employment following the end of his boxing career. De Niro once again went full method for this part of La Motta’s story, piling on the pounds to show a man who is well beyond his peak. Overall this is but a minor gripe against what is otherwise a gripping insight into the boxing world and the lives of those who exist in it.

Score: 5/5

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