#247 Raging Bull

(1980, Martin Scorsese)

“I knocked him down. I don’t know what else I gotta do”

It’s still very much the Christmas season, and today is Boxing Day, so let’s celebrate with an appropriate movie – a movie about boxing, of course!

Raging Bull is a biopic of former middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta, also known as the Raging Bull due to his relentless fighting style and explosive personality. The movie starts Robert De Niro as LaMotta as he gains his middleweight championship belt and becomes a star, but his jealousy and his appetite threaten to destroy his relationships and career.

As always with many Scorsese/De Niro collaborations, the first thing that was obvious to me with Raging Bull was De Niro’s absolutely fantastic performance. While performances in the likes of Casino and Taxi Driver were very noticeably the famous De Niro we all know and love, he takes it even further here and manages to completely become LaMotta.

What’s more, he does it twice in the same movie, portraying both the aggressive boxing champion at the top of his game and the bloated failure of his later years. He manages to be convincing as both, even going as far as gaining a lot of weight for the later scenes and looking barely recognisable. It’s definitely adds to the evidence that De Niro had an awful lot of talent back in the day.

Other performances were excellent. Cathy Moriarty as Vikki, LaMotta’s long-suffering wife, was a suitable mixture of fragile and brash, while Joe Pesci surprised me by playing a character that was actually rational. As an actor I’m used to seeing as angry gangster types with short fuses, it was bizarre to see him acting as the voice of reason here. Great, but bizarre.

It’s just a shame, then, that the movie is nowhere near as interesting as other Scorsese movies I’ve reviewed. While Taxi Driver was a fascinating insight into the mind of an angry young man, Raging Bull fails to recreate that level of fascination. Bickle just felt like a better constructed character, which is especially bizarre since Travis Bickle was a fictional construct while Jake LaMotta is very real.

The first thing that struck me as odd was where the movie started. Normally in biopics, we get an insight into what led them into the career that made them famous, or some degree of knowledge into their background, but Raging Bull just drops us in right in the middle. When we come in, LaMotta is already a boxer and heading his way up the ranks to become a champion.

It feels a little awkward to start us off here since we don’t get any real introduction into who LaMotta is, and we don’t really get any sense of progression from this. What’s more, because it starts here, the movie then seems to struggle with what to do with the rest of its running time.

What happens next is the movie becomes rather slow and ponderous, and ultimately fairly repetitive. In between fights, we get scenes of LaMotta at home with his wife or out and about with his brother, and these scenes all kind of blend together since the same thing typically happens. Someone says something, LaMotta misunderstands, LaMotta gets angry, there’s a heated argument, cue the next fight, repeat.

Nowhere is this more notable than in his relationship with Vikki. As the years go by, LaMotta gets increasingly jealous and believes his wife is cheating on him, leading almost every interaction between them to be little more than a shouting match about this supposed infidelity, and it gets very old very fast. Perhaps I’m just tired of movies featuring bullish husbands treating women like crap, but every time it happened again, I was rolling my eyes.

What’s more, there were plenty of other issues surrounding their relationship. The age difference at the start was somewhat uncomfortable, especially with a very awkward sex scene during the early stages. They also got married alarmingly quickly, especially considering LaMotta was already married, and not much was made of this particular problem, and it would have potentially added more drama if they’d dealt with it.

What’s more, it feels like there’s a real lack of focus on his actual boxing career. Fights are used to link scenes together, not as the central plot. It feels a bit weird to me that a movie about boxing focuses so little on actual boxing.

Overall, Raging Bull was certainly a well-constructed and well-acted movie that nonetheless often fell a little flat. Interesting if you’re curious about the career of Jake LaMotta, but otherwise not one of Scorsese’s best in my opinion.

Starring Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty & Joe Pesci
Written by Jake LaMotta (autobiography) and Paul Schrader & Mardik Martin
Produced by Robert Chartoff & Irvin Winkler
Cinematography by Michael Chapman
Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker

Favourite Scene: Joe Pesci calling out Jake for being an absolute moron was pretty nice.
Scene That Bugged Me: If I wanted to watch a movie where someone recites the speech from On The Waterfront, I’d watch On The Waterfront. Invent your own closing monologue, Scorsese!

Watch it if: You like New Yorkers yelling at each other for two hours
Avoid it if: You want to watch a lot of boxing

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Posted on December 27, 2013, in 1980s, Biopic, Drama, Sports and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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