CLASSIC REVIEW: Raging Bull (1980)

Release Poster – Tom Jung

The following is a classic movie review of Raging Bull – Directed by Martin Scorsese

Martin Scorsese is one of the greatest filmmakers – and my personal favorite – of all-time. But while I’ve loved his work for years, I still have a lot of his past films to watch for the first time. One movie that I, somehow, managed to always avoid was the classic biographical boxing tragedy Raging Bull. It’s been at the top of my Martin Scorsese watchlist for quite a while, and I’m happy to say that I understand the love Raging Bull has been getting. Raging Bull is, indeed, a masterpiece. 

Raging Bull tells the story of Jake LaMotta (played by Robert De Niro) a professional boxer known as ‘the Raging Bull,’ who, in his desperation to become a champion, becomes self-destructive and harmful to others. His brother and manager – Joey (played by Joe Pesci) – tries to rein in his aggressive brother, but fails to do so. Instead, he brings him closer to Jake’s second wife – Vickie (played by Cathy Moriarty) – who becomes the victim of spousal abuse and jealousy.

“That the thing ain’t the ring, it’s the play. So give me a stage. Where this bull here can rage. And though I could fight, I’d much rather recite… That’s entertainment.”

Raging Bull falls under the category of ‘classic films so renowned and praised that everything I can say has surely been said before,’ but I’m still going to be describing my experience watching the film like I would with any other film. Really, the first thing that comes to mind is that it’s a very different boxing movie. If you look at any film as a painting, then one could easily say that boxing is just this film’s frame and the canvas, or paper, itself is masterfully filled with elements that help make Raging Bull stand out.

After having seen Raging Bull, I’m not so sure what De Niro performance is his best anymore. For years, I’ve been championing his performance in Taxi Driver, but his performance as Jake LaMotta is just as good as his performance as Travis Bickle – if not better. However, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Joe Pesci better. Pesci is great in Goodfellas as Tommy DeVito (a performance that earned him an Academy Award), but something about his performance here, as Joey LaMotta, really got to me. Cathy Moriarty also gives a really solid performance in the film, which apparently was her debut film performance.

Raging Bull is also supremely well-made, well-shot, and well-edited. No scenes make that more apparent than the scenes within the ring. While all of the fights are extremely violent, there is this one fight that is absolutely breathtaking. It is edited and shot to feel like a nightmare. The lighting in the scene also helps make it the most memorable sequence in the film. As Sugar Ray Robinson gets ready for one final attack on Jake, the film builds anticipation with excellent filmmaking. A stunning sequence of shots. As Jake does his best to stay on the ropes and on his feet, you – as a viewer – are split. You both want him to overcome the attack and you want him to succumb to the pain – to accept the full power of a loss.

Raging Bull is a tragedy about a tired boxer with a Madonna-whore complex, who loses drive and ambition along his career thus leaving him in a devastatingly depressing state at the end of the film. It does feature sequences within the ring where he exorcises his demons, but his real fights take place outside of it as he tries to dominate by strong-arming his environment, his brother, and his wives. The film excels both inside and out of the boxing ring. Raging Bull is undoubtedly a masterpiece. It is a flawless film with palpable violence, utterly convincing acting, and then-state of the art filmmaking.

10 out of 10

– Jeffrey Rex

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