Raging Bull (1980)
Reviewed on 2010 August 3
This is the first boxing movie I saw, a topic I didn’t think I’d care about, but I still had to get this DVD just because of the cast and that it’s directed by Martin Scorsese. Before watching this, I knew little of boxing and even less of Jake La Motta. This is the film that made me come to the realization that I’m a chick that likes boxing movies, and I’m fine with that, even though people keep telling me I have to see stuff like Bride Wars and Confessions of a Shopaholic and then look truly baffled when I show them stuff like this bookended with the boxed-set The Godfather saga on my movie shelf. As I’m rewatching it, I still think only Scorsese could have made me this interested in hearing Jake’s story. He’s such a lout (here anyway) that a lesser director would have made me want a different DVD.
La Motta (Robert DeNiro, almost unrecognizable with Jake’s nose, curly hair and extra muscle) is a fighter whose talent is almost outstripped by his temper and how he abuses those closest to him: his brother and manager Joey (Joe Pesci); his first wife; and his second wife, Vicki (Cathy Moriarty), who married him when she was sixteen. You get the CliffNotes version of Jake’s personality when he has a meltdown over how his first wife cooks a steak, then leaves her behind to go to a dance (where he decides once and for all to pursue Vicki). Despite his self-sabotage and demons, and constant arguing with his brother’s well-meaning career advice, he was still the world middleweight champion in 1949.
As I’ve said, Jake is a lout, but for these 129 minutes he’s a complex lout, in one scene scolding his brother for using profanity and then using choice streams of it himself. The beginning of the film is amazing: soft black and white, with La Motta’s ballet-like footwork in the ring set to “Cavalleria Rusticana”. It’s hard to root for La Motta — neither of the La Mottas are charmers in this — but his is a fascinating story, and it’s brilliantly told here. DeNiro outdid himself, gaining weight to play an older post-boxing Jake and taking home a Best Actor Oscar®, and Moriarty got an Oscar nomination for her work. The black and white is crisp (except for that soft, oddly gorgeous beginning) and just adds to the grit.
Four chocolate morsels.