Martin Scorsese's brutal black-and-white biography of self-destructive boxer Jake LaMotta was chosen as the best film of the 1980s in a major critics' poll at the end of the decade, and it's a knockout piece of filmmaking. Robert De Niro plays LaMotta (famously putting on 50 pounds for the later scenes), a man tormented by demons he doesn't understand and prone to uncontrollably violent temper tantrums and fits of irrational jealousy. He marries a striking young blond (Cathy Moriarty), his sexual ideal, and then terrorizes her with never-ending accusations of infidelity. Jake is as frightening as he is pathetic, unable to control or comprehend the baser instincts that periodically, and without warning, turn him into the rampaging beast of the title. But as Roman Catholic Scorsese sees it, he works off his sins in the boxing ring, where his greatest athletic talent is his ability to withstand punishment. The fight scenes are astounding; they're like barbaric ritual dance numbers. Images smash into one another--a flashbulb, a spray of sweat, a fist, a geyser of blood--until you feel dazed from the pummeling. Nominated for a handful of Academy Awards (including best picture and director), Raging Bull
won only two, for De Niro and for editor Thelma Schoonmacher. --Jim Emerson
With Raging Bull
, Martin Scorsese's personal approach to film-making is taken to a whole new level. Shooting in a crisp black and white, Scorsese tells the story of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta, played with incredible intensity by Robert De Niro, in an Oscar-winning performance. As La Motta rises through the ranks to earn his first shot at the middleweight crown, he falls in love with Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), a gorgeous girl from his Bronx neighbourhood. Jake's inability to express his feelings pours out in the ring and eventually takes over his life in his dealings with his brother, Joey (a brilliant Joe Pesci). Irrational jealousy over Vickie, as well as an insatiable appetite, sends him into a downward spiral that costs him his title, his wife, and his relationship with Joey. As the out-of-control fighter, De Niro delivers one of the screen's most unforgettable performances. Pesci is just as intense as Joey, who finally realises that he is unable to tame his animalistic brother.
Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman shoot the film with a stylish flair that fills the boxing scenes with boundless energy and adds immediacy to the endless arguments that erupt whenever Jake is outside the ring. Coupled with Thelma Schoonmaker's breakneck editing and the film's audacious sound design, said scenes are the most brutally realistic depiction of the sport the cinema has ever seen. Simply put, Raging Bull
is one of American cinema's masterworks.