Film: Raging Bull

Cover image
Film:

Raging Bull

Director: Martin Scorsese
Honors:
Genres:
Distributor: MGM (Video & DVD)

Martin Scorsese’s brutal black-and-white biography of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta was chosen as the best film of the 1980s in a major critics’ poll at the end of the decade, and it’s a knockout piece of filmmaking. Robert De Niro plays LaMotta (famously putting on 50 pounds for the later scenes), a man tormented by demons he doesn’t understand and prone to uncontrollably violent temper tantrums and fits of irrational jealousy. He marries a striking young blond (Cathy Moriarty), his sexual ideal, and then terrorizes her with never-ending accusations of…

Reviews

Amazon.com

Martin Scorsese’s brutal black-and-white biography of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta was chosen as the best film of the 1980s in a major critics’ poll at the end of the decade, and it’s a knockout piece of filmmaking. Robert De Niro plays LaMotta (famously putting on 50 pounds for the later scenes), a man tormented by demons he doesn’t understand and prone to uncontrollably violent temper tantrums and fits of irrational jealousy. He marries a striking young blond (Cathy Moriarty), his sexual ideal, and then terrorizes her with never-ending accusations of infidelity. Jake is as frightening as he is pathetic, unable to control or comprehend the baser instincts that periodically, and without warning, turn him into the rampaging beast of the title. But as Roman Catholic Scorsese sees it, he works off his sins in the boxing ring, where his greatest athletic talent is his ability to withstand punishment. The fight scenes are astounding; they’re like barbaric ritual dance numbers. Images smash into one another—a flashbulb, a spray of sweat, a fist, a geyser of blood—until you feel dazed from the pummeling. Nominated for a handful of Academy Awards (including best picture and director), Raging Bull won only two, for De Niro and for editor Thelma Schoonmacher. —Jim Emerson

The high-point in the long fruitful partnership of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, and widely reckoned one of the finest films of the 1980s, Raging Bull still looks like a contender. Based on the ghosted autobiography of 1940s boxing champion Jake La Motta, it’s the most searing, intense and often painful to watch of Scorsese’s explorations into the nature of masculinity and macho values. The rise of La Motta, the taut, cocky young fighting machine from the Bronx, is bookended by the scenes in which, as a paunchy, bloated has-been 20 years later, he’s reduced to acting out self-pitying monologues in a tawdry Manhattan nightclub. The film is shot in crystalline black-and-white, masterfully framed and lit by Michael Chapman, partly as passionate movie-buff Scorsese’s response to the way in which classic colour films were at this time being allowed to deteriorate into pinky-mauve travesties of their original rich tones.

Making their starring debuts, Joe Pesci as La Motta’s long-suffering brother and manager, and Cathy Moriarty as his delicate-featured, abused child-wife, both grab their opportunities with both hands. But the film’s dominated from the outset by De Niro’s tour de force performance as the brutal, hair-triggered La Motta, viciously lashing out at the world in self-destructive fury. De Niro, who had first suggested the project to Scorsese back in 1973, threw himself into the role with near-demented dedication, submitting to a full year’s punishing training programme to gain a boxer’s physique and fighting skills—then taking two months off in Europe to stuff himself relentlessly till he had gained 60 lbs to play the slobbish, washed-up ex-champ. It’s a performance of scary believability that makes you realise how casually, these days, the actor is coasting through his later career. Raging Bull was nominated for eight Oscars and picked up two, one for De Niro, and one for Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing. —Philip Kemp

Barnes and Noble

Four years after Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky had elevated the art of boxing to mythic, even romantic heights, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull—a biography of middleweight fighter Jake La Motta—pulled the canvas from beneath the sport, revealing a dark and dangerous world inhabited not by punchy, loveable wannabes, but by brutes and bullies. Scorsese opted to shoot the film in black-and-white, effectively evoking the documentary grittiness so essential to the movie’s feel, and his screenplay (cowritten by Paul Schrader) makes no apologies for La Motta’s violent, abusive behavior, which was primarily directed at his wife (played superbly by newcomer Cathy Moriarity) and brother (Joe Pesci). Thelma Schoonmaker’s Oscar-winning editing depicts boxing not as a graceful, slo-mo ballet of swinging arms, but instead as a sport whose punches and uppercuts draw blood and actually hurt. The true heart and soul of Raging Bull though, is Robert De Niro, whose La Motta boils over with the raw anger of a man possessed. So conscientious was De Niro’s approach to the role that he even called a halt to the filming so he could gain 50 pounds to play the boxer in his later years. It is a tour-de-force performance that set a new standard for acting, and helped make Raging Bull among the most revered movies of the 1980s. Bruce Kluger

Related Works

Book:Raging Bull: My Story

Raging Bull: My Story

Jake La Motta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage

Meet Jake La Motta: thief, rapist, killer. Raised in the Bronx slums, he fought on the streets, got sent to reform school, and served time in prison. Trusting no one, slugging everyone, he beat his wife, his best friends, even the mobsters who kept the title just out of reach. But the same forces that made him criminal—fear, rage, jealousy, self-hate, guilt—combined with his drive and intelligence to make him a winner in the ring. At age 27, after eight years of fighting, he became Middleweight Champion of the World, a hero to thousands. Then, at the peak of success, he fell apart, and began a swift, harrowing descent into nightmare. Raging Bull, the Bronx Bull’s brutally candid memoir, tells it all—fights, jails, sex, money—surpassing, in hard-hitting prose, even the movie that immortalized it.

Views: 714 • Modified: • Elapsed: 0.019 sec