Top 100 Films #63 – Raging Bull (1980)

 

image-w1280-2#63. Raging Bull (1980)
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Paul Schrader, Mardrik Martin (based on Raging Bull: My Story by Jake La Motta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage)
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Nicholas Colasanto

From a classic masterpiece to a slightly more modern one, Raging Bull is almost undeniably Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s shining achievement.  The bleak and often tough to watch look at the life of boxer Jake La Motta pulls no punches, but instead acts as an honest critique of the man’s life.  Raging Bull sees the aforementioned Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) as he rises through the ranks boxing in the middleweight division, his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) serving as his manager and assistant.  Jake falls in love with a teenage girl named Vikki (Cathy Moriarty), defeats the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, being taken seriously as a legitimate fighter.  The film sees Jake La Motta’s intense jealousy over his wife Vikki, his tumultuous relationship with his brother Jake, his rise to title contention, and his very sudden and very sharp fall from grace.  The best part of Raging Bull is just how searing a look at its central figure it is – the man is rarely painted in an overly positive light.  The audience instead has to sit through difficult scenes of the La Motta family embroiled in domestic abuse, familial infighting, corruption, and serious embarrassment by the hands of fate.  Martin Scorsese’s graceful direction of the film is what makes Raging Bull special – he and cinematographer Michael Chapman shoot the movie in beautiful, but grainy, black and white.  The film’s boxing scenes are shot almost like professional ballet by Scorsese and Chapman, with each blow feeling like a true work of art.  It is Scorsese’s direction that gives Raging Bull its immense power over viewers, becoming a beautiful but disturbing look at a man who was no stranger to controversy.  The three lead performances by Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty are incredible, with each actor bringing their own take on the roles.  De Niro’s method acting techniques saw the actor gain a great deal of weight for scenes in Raging Bull’s last act, making it much more powerful and believable than prosthetics ever could.  His intense, angry performance as the jealous and violent La Motta is legendary, and earned De Niro an Academy Award for Best Actor.  Both Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty deliver more down-to-earth and level-headed performances as the two reasonable voices in the ears of Jake La Motta – Pesci being torn between feelings of loyalty and shame for his brother, and Moriarty the unsatisfied, unhappy wife of La Motta.  Worth mentioning also is the editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, which also earned her an Academy Award.  Schoonmaker experiments with slow motion and manipulation of sound during boxing scenes, making them all far more memorable and noteworthy.  Raging Bull is legendary from top to bottom, featuring the greatest modern American director in his prime, three extraordinary performances, and a hell of a script to deliver one of the most honest and painful character studies ever made.  

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