Raging Bull Reviews
Italian-American, middleweight boxer, Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) has inner demons and is prone to obsessive rage and sexual jealousy which threatens to destroy his relationship with his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and brother/trainer Joey (Joe Pesci). In the ring, he a prizewinner but it's outside it, that he seems to lose everything.
On the surface, Raging Bull could be seen as just another boxing biopic, much like Denzel Washington's portrayal of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter, Russell Crowe's Jim "The Cinderella Man" Braddock or Will Smith's Muhammad "Ali". Scorsese and DeNiro's vision is an altogether different one, though. It's not their intention to glamourise LaMotta or deliver a conventional film about pugilism. Their intentions lie in exposing the man beyond the ring - where his real fights took place. The biggest opponent for "The Bronx Bull" was actually himself and his struggle with a raging, psychosexual insecurity and his propensity for self-destruction. It's here that DeNiro fully takes centre stage in what is, unequivocally, his finest moment (and that's saying something) throughout an illustrious career of exceptionally strong performances. His transformation is near miraculous; while researching and preparing for the role, De Niro actually spent the entire shoot with LaMotta so he could portray him accurately and went through extensive physical training, entering into three genuine Brooklyn boxing matches and winning two of them. According to La Motta, De Niro had the ability to be a professional fighter and that he would have been happy to have been his manager and trainer. Following this, production was stopped for two months so DeNiro could pile on 60 pounds to portray LaMotta in his older years. His commitment to the role (and project) has now become legendary and highly respected amongst his peers. Quite simply, DeNiro's smouldering (and deservedly Oscar winning) display is an absolute masterclass in the profession.
Scorsese's skills manifest in his operatic approach; he's less interested in cranking up the tension or theatrics of the bouts and more focused on the punishing brutality of the sport. He employs the use of flashbulbs, and several different sound effects - like smashing glass and squelching watermelons - to achieve an overall crunching effectiveness. He's aided immeasurably by Thelma Schoonmaker's sharp editing technique and Michael Chapman's sublime, monochrome, cinematography which serves the film as a whole in it's mood and noir-ish atmosphere. If the bouts in the ring are claustrophobic then the same could be said for the 'quieter' moments outside it; LaMotta's personal life is uncomfortably scrutinised in his abuse towards his wife Vickie and brother Joey. There are very personal scenes of fraught and jealous conversations that are unbearably tense, and fully depict how much of a brute this man really was. It's testament to the commitment of the entire cast and crew that this highly unappealing individual can make such compelling viewing.
A truly searing, cinematic classic, that addresses the unflinching, animalistic, behaviour of a man in need of absolution and redemption. It also happens to possess one of cinema's most breathtaking and riveting performances. On this evidence, there's no question that Robert DeNiro is a master of his craft and it's arguably Martin Scorsese's finest work as well.
The camerawork by Scorcese during the boxing scenes is poetic and brutal all at once. Loved the quick cuts to the cameras and their sounds, the use of slow motion, the extreme close ups and tenderness when Cathy is kissing his eyes, the weird, cute "date" at minigolf when the courting first begins and the use of colour for their love story montage.
Then there's De Niro's Jake LaMotta. Anger constantly bubbling beneath the surface. Absolute disregard for rules or society. Paranoia, obsession, extreme jealousy, control freak. Did I mention the oh-so-violent outbursts?
I have no idea how De Niro prepared for this role, or how long it stuck with him afterwards. He is scarily good!
LaMotta, played by the brilliant Robert De Niro is someone that you really want to root for but we are constantly prevented from fully committing as LaMotta hits self destruct on his personal life and ultimtely his boxing career.
"Who's an animal? Your mother's an animal, ya son of a bitch. "
However, De Niro and Pesci were brilliant. And it was shot gorgeously. And the Psycho-ish fight scene was awwwwesome even if it was cringe-worthy.