Raging Bull (1980)
LaMotta's Rocky Life
You throw a punch like you're taking it up the arse - Jake
There are some who rate "Raging Bull" as the greatest boxing movie of all time which to be honest is a little misleading. It's misleading because "Raging Bull" is a very different sort of boxing movie, it may have some great fight scenes, in fact iconic fight scenes, but this is not a movie about the fighting in the same was as "Rocky" with its underdog story. Instead "Raging Bull" is a movie about boxer Jake LaMotta and his self destructive tendencies, his paranoia and relationships, basically his turbulent life story from 1941 to 1964 when having retired from the ring became an entertainer in clubs. It is a great movie and depending what you want from a boxing movie it could be the best boxing movie you will ever watch.
So as already pointed out "Raging Bull" is a different sort of beast to your normal boxing movies, it doesn't glorify the sport at all and the boxing is very much the backdrop for the real story. That story is that of Jake LaMotta, played by Robert De Niro, as this is basically a biopic, a biopic which focuses on a little less than 25 years in the life of the boxer. But again this is not your normal sort of biopic where a person's life and achievements are glorified, nope this is a warts and all look of a destructive man.
The movie starts in 1964 where we meet a bloated looking LaMotta practicing his words in the dressing room before he goes out to entertain the patrons of a club. But things quickly switch back to 1941 and the fight against Jimmy Reeves in Cleveland which ended in crowd violence when LaMotta was robbed of a win by the judges. What follows on from there is a look at LaMotta's life his relationship with his brother Joey who is also his manager and his relationship with Vickie who he falls for despite already being married.
Now the constant theme of "Raging Bull" is LaMotta's destructive tendencies both in and outside of the ring. Outside we watch him become paranoid that Vickie is cheating on him, leading to violent outbursts both physically beating Vickie and also Joey. But we also see his destructive power in the ring, purposefully disfiguring another boxer because Vickie had mentioned he was good looking and in doing so stoking LaMotta's jealousy.
But we also realise LaMotta's destructive tendencies were also towards himself, eating like a pig and unable to control his weight through to not wanting help from anyone. In general the title "Raging Bull" does a perfect job of describing the character of LaMotta, easy to anger and destructive when pushed.
Now the thing about all of this is that not once does Martin Scorsese glorify LaMotta and bravely delivers one of the most truthful biopics you will ever see. As such by the time "Raging Bull" is over you get a very clear picture of how violent LaMotta could be both inside and out of the ring. But whilst never glorifying LaMotta Scorsese also gives us a picture of a boxer with great heart. The scenes in the ring are fearsome with destructive power as we watch him destroy his opponents, taking the punches and then exploding in their faces.
Now talking of the boxing scenes there is no denying that Scorsese gets across the destructive power and when you see blood spurt from a face following a punch it grabs your attention. But these boxing scenes are like art, beautifully constructed so you can feel the atmosphere, the smoke from the crowds, the steam rising off of bodies as blood drips from wounds all the time delivering the ferocity of punches flying straight at you in a tirade of quick blows. Scorsese has basically constructed some of the best boxing scenes you will ever watch, stylish, atmospheric and brutal.
And talking of style here we have a movie from 1980 shot in black and white. But whilst there are various reasons why Scorsese chose to shoot in black and white one of the best reasons is that it makes the action sharper. Watching blood and sweat spray from a body being pummelled look so much more impressive with the contrast which black and white delivers as does the impact of a blood soaked sponge being used to rub down LaMotta's body during a fight.
Now "Raging Bull" has three stars Joe Pesci as Joey LaMotta, Cathy Moriarty as Vickie LaMotta and Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta. But whilst both Pesci and Moriarty deliver top performances, with Pesci himself shedding the pounds to play the role it is Robert De Niro's selfless performance which makes it great. There is of course the physical side, the fact in the scenes which take us back to the early 1940s he looks young and lean, every ounce of a boxer but then he piles on the pounds, roughly 60 pounds in weight to play LaMotta when he retired and just the realism of De Niro's body looking bloated makes it convincing. But then there is the depth of character, the anger and the paranoia, the ability to suddenly snap which he also gets across which is so impressive. It is such a full on performance from De Niro that it never feels like you are watching an actor but a man whose own self destructive nature destroys him.
What this all boils down to is that "Raging Bull" is one of the great movies of the 20th century and depending what you want from a boxing movie is it also the greatest boxing movie ever made. You could also go as far as saying it is one of the great biopics because this is a warts and all tale, not the pretty storylines which usually dominate the biopic genre. As such it may not be what you expect but it will impress and leave you with plenty of memories, be it De Niro's performance or the stunning cinematography.
Tags: Boxing Movies
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