← Back to Reviews

Raging Bull

Raging Bull (Martin Scorsese, 1980)

I'm not going to go into so much detail for this bonafide classic, although I feel it deserves it. The thing I really notice about it now is how much of a history all the characters played by De Niro and Pesci really have in their Scorsese films. In some ways, De Niro's paranoid, uncontrollable and pathetic Jake La Motta is far more psycho and complex than Travis Bickle, and I'm not trying to belittle or demean Taxi Driver in this post. It's just that La Motta has many of the things which Travis desires, yet he is still insecure and self-destructive. I find Raging Bull to be Marty's second best film, after GoodFellas. It's a terrific accomplishment, full of power and passion, but it's unrelentingly brutal. Jake La Motta seems to live his entire life in Hell on Earth. His paranoia is truly disturbing. Only near the end of the film does he get busted, even though he and his "slightly-more-mellow" Bro both deserve to go to jail more than a few times.

Aside from a minute or two of home movies shot in color, Raging Bull is photographed in striking black-and-white by future director Michael Chapman. I believe the reason for that is two-fold (sorry, Holds, I've never heard or read any commentary about it). First off, I believe that Scorsese wants to present the film "realistically" even though it's a highly-stylized melodrama and is not realistic at all, whether it be its depiction of boxing in general or La Motta's fights specifically. Second, I think that Scorsese may have been afraid that the film would have been too violent in color and that he wouldn't be allowed to get away with some of the more violent makeup effects during the boxing matches and a few other graphic scenes. Nevertheless, the heart and soul of the movie are the performances and some of the quieter scenes. Although the soundtrack and much of the action is pitched at an operatic level, it's the quieter scenes (often almost as melodramatic as the loud ones, but more menacing) which draw you into the film. Then again, it may not draw everyone in. My wife hates Raging Bull, and I can understand that repulsiveness is often hateful, but somehow Scorsese and De Niro are able to turn a "Monster" such as La Motta into a human being deserving of love and forgiveness. This was Sarah's first viewing of the film. I hope you don't report me for child abuse now.