So here it is, the last blind spot film I’ll be covering this year and, as stated right at the start, I’m book-ending with Scorcese. In January I reviewed Taxi Driver and this month I’m covering one of the other films considered to be Scorcese’s masterpiece, once again with Robert De Niro, Raging Bull. This is the one I’ve been looking forward the most to seeing and I have to say it didn’t disappoint. Whilst it didn’t quite reach the high of Goodfellas for me in terms of Scorcese’s filmography, it was still a brilliant film.
The film covers the career of boxer Jake LaMotta ranging from his boxing days in the 1940s to his stint as a nightclub owner in Miami in the 50s to his celebrity status in the 60s. The focus though is not really on LaMotta’s fights inside the ring but those on the outside, mainly focused on his brother Joey and his second wife Vicki. The relationship he has with these two form the spine of the film and all the emotional weight comes through. We see that most of the damage done to LaMotta’s life was not through his boxing but through his pride and jealousy. Some of this comes into play with the boxing such as his poor performance when ordered by the Mafia to take a dive and when he brutally beats up another boxer to destroy his face out of jealousy when Vicki says he’s attractive. Through seeing the film through LaMotta’s eyes we see the roots of his jealousy, how every little action Vickie and Joey do are twisted so that, no matter their original intent, LaMotta sees them as against him no matter what, going into themes regarding the fear LaMotta has over sexuality, his overt pride and how damaging it is to him in every aspect of his life, mainly seen in the 50s and how this leads into his own self loathing and how this all congeals inside him to create a vile but compelling character.
The performances in the film are excellent all around. Robert De Niro gives one of, if not the, best performance in his career as LaMotta. He fills LaMotta with so much rage and jealousy, making him a very compelling character that you don’t want to meet in real life. He shows LaMotta as egotistical, prone to anger, willing to go against anyone who loved him due to his jealousy and unwilling to move past his glory days, cashing in on them long after they are behind him. Joe Pesci is also excellent as Joey LaMotta, showing himself to be an equal to Jake, the verbal fights between the two being brilliantly done and the very subtle acting from Pesci at the end of the film, when combined with De Niro’s creates a great heartbreaking moment. Cathy Moriarty as Vickie LaMotta is great as well, showing a great confidence at the start of the film that lets you know why Jake is attracted to her and how she was able to have the relationship she did with the mafia members, along with a growing fear of LaMotta as the film progresses and he gets more violent and jealous, culminating in great scenes with Moriarty showing Vickie in her terrible marriage and her eventual escape from LaMotta.
On a technical level the film is a marvel. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous and when used with effective slow motion creates both an effective throwback to the time and generates some of the most striking images in Scorcese’s filmography. The use of violence is excellent as well, in the boxing matches showing the brutality of what is going on and the toll it is taking on LaMotta’s body and outside the ring it helps to establish LaMotta’s violent tendencies and volatile personality. The boxing matches meanwhile are some of the best ever put to screen, putting you in the ring with LaMotta, the aforementioned violence showing the brutality of the fights and the lighting and set design helping to show the desperation and diminishing status of LaMotta. The editing meanwhile helps to create a great atmosphere in the film whilst the make-up used to age up De Niro is excellent for the time, especially when combined with the weight gain De Niro went through for the end of the film.
Overall, it’s easy to see why Raging Bull is considered to be Scorcese’s masterpiece. It doesn’t quite reach that height for me (I’m one of the people who considers Goodfellas to be his masterpiece) but I do think it is one of Scorcese’s best films, an incredible look at a pretty reprehensible person aided by great writing, some of Scorcese’s best direction, Thelma Schoonmaker’s best editing and Michael Chapman’s best cinematography, topped by probably the best performance Robert De Niro has given in his career.
My Rating: 5/5