Raging Bull. The name alone will usher a sigh from just about any filmophile’s lips. This is the film that becomes so much more than a sports movie, which it is often erroneously classified as. This is a character drama, a study of one man, and how the way he lived and the way he was destroyed everyone and everything around him, until finally he has nothing. Nothing but regrets and a cheap stand-up act.
In an absolutely stellar career as Robert De Niro’s, he unquestionably gives his greatest performance here. He is nearly unrecognizable as the older LaMotta, and as LaMotta in his prime, he’s lean, mean, and doesn’t take no shit from anybody. Jake LaMotta does what he wants, when he wants, and to who he wants, and if he doesn’t get it, he lashes out verbally, then physically. This is a character to stand up to any test of time. The supporting players are equally up to the task; Joe Pesci gives a breakout performance as Jake’s older brother Joey, as does Cathy Moriarty as Jake’s young lover and would-be wife. And of course, the man behind the helm: Marty Scorsese. Here, he graduates from amateur up-and-comer to a true filmmaker, a consummate director. Scorsese is a born and bred New Yorker; the film is so New Yorkian it’s almost intoxicating, and the black and white cinematography only serves to heighten the stark effect the film has on us.
I’m glad to have seen this film. I wouldn’t call the film itself the unyielding masterpiece some critics throw around, but it is a superb and wonderfully bleak experience that everyone certainly should see before they die. If I could, I’d give it a 9.5, but De Niro’s performance is what elevates this into masterpiece territory. At one point in the film, LaMotta does a rare bit of musing, and says “I’ve done a lot of bad things; maybe it’s comin’ back to me. Who knows?” If anything can be gleaned from De Niro’s performance, it should be this. Now enjoy the two hours it takes him to fully realize it.
Arbitrary Rating: 10/10