One of Scorsese’s greatest accomplishments—an astonishing character study of the rise and fall of a world champion middleweight boxer that is also an acting and editing masterclass.
Dir. Martin Scorsese
1980 | USA | Biography/Drama/Sport | 129 mins | 1.85:1 | English
NC16 (passed clean) for coarse language
Cast: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Plot: The life of boxer Jake LaMotta, whose violence and temper that led him to the top in the ring destroyed his life outside of it.
Awards: Won 2 Oscars – Best Leading Actor, Best Film Editing; Nom. for 6 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Sound
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: The Projector
There have been so many great things said about Raging Bull that it is impossible to add anything valuable to the conversation. I’ll just offer a few thoughts here.
Raging Bull is quite rightly one of Martin Scorsese’s greatest accomplishments, in the league of Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990). It also gave us the pairing of Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci for the first time. What a remarkable duo, who feed off each other’s energy like a tiger to meat.
De Niro is Jake LaMotta, the reigning world champion middleweight boxer at the time, while Pesci plays his supportive brother who becomes frustrated by Jake’s antics.
“You didn’t get me down, Ray.”
It is an astonishing character study on the rise and fall of an egocentric man who was too eager for fame, but too blind to see that he would destroy his own life in the process. It might just be De Niro’s finest performance in a glittering career.
Apart from the acting masterclass, what strikes me most vividly is Thelma Schoonmaker’s extraordinary editing work, which comes more sharply in focus the more times you see the film.
While it is not a pure boxing entertainer like Rocky (1976), Raging Bull could be the finest boxing movie ever made—not just as a character study or biopic, but one that depicts uncompromisingly various psychological states within and outside the rink.
Scorsese’s aural-visual approach to the fight scenes, in particular, are some of the most impeccable in all of cinema—there’s so much intensity and tension that flashes from a stray camera can stun you as if they are figurative blows to the face.