Bottom Line: Furious classic.
“You didn’t get me down, Ray.” –Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro
Martin Scorsese is the motion picture industry’s equivalent to Ludwig van Beethoven. He’ll go as definitively superlative as he can with a production as far as the fashion in which the mood and emotion are presented, as long as in the end it all threads together seamlessly. RAGING BULL is the perfectionistic example of how Scorsese puts his successful style to work. This is the biographical story of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a middleweight boxer known by his nickname “Raging Bull” in the 1940s and 1950s. This cinematic splendour of a film is a well-acted record of this segment of his life, in which he struggles with his outrageous temper that is raising him to the pinnacle of his career, but is bringing him to an emotionally self-destructive state outside the ring.
The decision to film RAGING BULL in black and white is utterly ingenious. This film is, quite frankly, one of the only films I have seen that I cannot imagine being anything the same in color. Something about this film makes it seem so much like something straight out of the time period in which it is set. That’s impressive, because this film came nearly thirty years after the last point in the story. Even the fight sequences look beautiful under this visual effect. The final fight, though far more brutal than all the others combined, uses the embellishment well. Whereas in a colorization quite a few viewers would be shielding their eyes, the black and white cinematography allows us to focus more on the poignancy of the sequence rather than the violence.
“He ain’t pretty any more.” –Nicholas Colasanto as Tommy Como
Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are the two key performing highlights of the film. De Niro portrays the furious Jake LaMotta, the film’s primary subject, and Pesci portrays his stubborn brother Joey. Both are magnificently developed characters, and that’s the least I can say. It’s likely that every day, Jake goes to the ring and competes with a different rival. He never knows his opponent, but he’s consistently obligated, let alone paid to beat the living daylights out of him. Ironically, the one Jake seems to truly want to pummel is Joey, who he sees seemingly every time he comes home. We begin to feel Jake’s life eventually, and as the heated arguments and tension build up in the film, we begin to feel our blood burning, as well. It’s the definition of a tour de force performance.
“Come on. Hit me. Harder. Harder.” –Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta
“What do you want? That is hard. What are you trying to prove?” –Joe Pesci as Joey LaMotta
I’m a sucker for almost any boxing film, and the most likely reason is because I’m NOT a sports fanatic. I always try to avoid sports; this goes with sports films, as well. Boxing is another thing. The sport is so simple that when someone as anti-athletic as me is watching a film about it, it’s a relief to be able to not have to spend minutes trying to figure out what is going on in the sport at the moment, and rather to focus on the more important plot itself. The way the sport is presented here is wonderful. It’s not ROCKY, where career and personal life are two separate opportunities. It’s thematically similar: we get a look at how personal life are two separate opportunities, bounded by one rope–in this case, Jake LaMotta’s temper–that frays and frays until all that is left is a mere thread. RAGING BULL is one of those films that has a few memorable scenes, including its opening and its ending, but the entirety of it is what lingers in the mind of the viewer after it is finished with. A magnificent accomplishment.