- Directed by Martin Scorsese
- November 14, 1980 (NYC) / December 19, 1980 (US)
- Based on Jake LaMotta’s 1970 memoir Raging Bull: My Story
The story of Jake LaMotta and how what served him in the ring caused his life to fall apart outside of it.
Raging Bull is a drama with boxing in it but is not a boxing film. It is a portrait of a rather terrible individual and can be difficult to watch. Not because the film itself is bad but because the picture they paint of him is rather unflinching. This film does no favors for Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) in its portrayal. This is a warts and all depiction of the boxer and the warts are heavily infected.
LaMotta is violent and abusive and uncontrollably jealous. He thinks people are screwing him over or just generally plotting against him. He sees disloyalty from his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) which is probably an outgrowth of the infidelity that led him to her. And on that, he met and pursued her while she was at the ripe old age of 15 after seeing her at a swimming pool and he was still married. Great guy.
Joe Pesci in a rare pairing with Robert De Niro plays LaMotta’s brother Joey in this movie. That has never ever happened before and hasn’t happened since. These two actors never worked together. Completely unusual. Those two in a film together is as rare as John Wayne and Bruce Cabot being in a movie together.
There is a reason these two work together as often as they have and it is because not only are they great actors but have a real chemistry that makes whatever happens between the two of them on screen feel natural and real. The relationship between Joey and Jake is not healthy yet is only something that could last because they are family and have the shared experiences that come from that.
It was a bold choice to make this in black-and-white at the time that it came out. It certainly helps the feel of the era in which this story is set. Because of the number of films from the time it’s easy to think of the ‘40s or the general past in terms of black-and-white rather than in color even though it was as vibrant as anything you could see today.
What struck me also about Raging Bull is that there is a distinct lack of background music in it. In this day and age just about every scene in a movie has noise and music or something but not this. The presentation is very much like this is being filmed as it happens. It gives a level of authenticity to the dramatization of LaMotta’s life.
If you come into Raging Bull expecting heavy boxing action you’re going to be disappointed. Boxing is a is ultimately very minor part of the narrative and serves to remind the viewer of the world in which this takes place. The focus is certainly on the main character’s life and relationships. And it seems that just about every relationship he has is volatile and borderline if not entirely dysfunctional. And much of that appears to be his fault.
My major issue is that everybody is just so terrible. I know that’s certainly an aspect of more modern dramatic films and I know these are based on real people, but it wears on me at this point in my life. Maybe it’s just me but I can’t feel that the world is filled with such a high number of terrible people. I’ve met too many good and decent individuals. Then again perhaps it’s because of the circle I travel in.
There are no real saints in this dark and atmospheric film. Mostly victims and sinners which can be the same thing depending on the situation. With great dialogue and fantastic performances they become characters you are interest in what happens next with.
I will admit this is not my cup of tea. And it comes down to the terrible people with little redeemability that populate the story. Having said that I do see why people like this. It is a well-done film by a legendary director. The talent present in front of and behind the camera is undeniable. While it does not strongly appeal to me, I can see why it appeals to others.
Raging Bull is a film that does deserve its status. It is a fine script brought to life by legendary talent. While not necessarily for me, I think everybody should watch because of its status and to see if it is for them.