#7 “Raging Bull”
Director: Martin Scorsese
Screenplay: Jake LaMotta, Paul Shrader
Stars: Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
Original Release Date: 18 Dec 1980
Oscars: 2 (Best Actor – Robert DeNiro, Film Editing), 6 other nominations
Critics and Users
Rotten Tomatoes: 98% Berardinelli: #16 of All Time
Metacritic: 8.3 Ebert: Top 10 of All Time, #1 of the 80s
IMDB Top 250: #112
Raging Bull, the stark, realistic biopic of 1940’s middleweight boxing icon Jake LaMotta, delves into many of the themes present in the best of Martin Scorsese’s movies; guilt, fear, self-loathing, jealousy and violence. Jake LaMotta is such an insecure man that he cannot imagine that a woman a lovely as his own wife Vicki could care for him and he spends most of the film believing he is sleeping with a another man, most likely his brother.
To dismiss Raging Bull as a boxing film is to miss its point. Less than 15 minutes of is run time takes place in the ring but the time in the ring is visceral and hard to watch. Scorsese had the camera man in the rope like and third presence, rather than outside like most boxing films. The black and white images of sweat and blood, coupled with brilliant sounds of gunshots and screeching birds, make the boxing scenes the highlights. But this movie goes so much deeper than that.
Much has been rightly said and written about Robert DeNiro’s Oscar winning performance as LaMotta. He is presented as a character that is equally violent and weak, sad and scornful. His fights have no strategies, they are just bursts of rage and anger. Joe Pesci co-stars as his brother/manager Joey in the first of three teaming of the two actors with this director.
DeNiro’s performance is as close to perfect acting as you may ever see. He mimics LaMotta’s crouched, flat-footed boxing style, lumbering in the ring. In the legendary scene of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the LaMotta / Sugar Ray fight in 1951, Scorsese uses a combination of his own black and white along with archive film and commentating, combined with DeNiro’s spot on performance to recreate that fight with chilling results.
A young, stunning Cathy Moriarty at Vickie LaMotta
In many ways, the key to the film is the young Cathy Moriarty, only 19 when she took the role as Jake’s young wife, Vickie. She oozes innocence, dominance and sexuality all at once. For Jake, she is the true personification of what Freud called the Madonna-Whore complex, a condition in men. Essentially, where the man desires he cannot love, and where he loves he cannot desire. Because Jake both loves and desires her, she is a thorn in his side his entire life: an object of his horrible rage.
At the time the decision was made to make this movie, Scorsese was suffering from a terrible cocaine addiction and came close to death from an overdose. Mired in depression and hospitalized, his close friend DeNiro came to him with script and insisted that he get up, get well and make this movie. Scorsese credits Raging Bull and DeNiro with saving his life.
Raging Bull is brilliantly shot in black in white. It is a sad film, a biopic of man that you would never ever care to meet. It is at the same time a skillfully crafted film – a true work of art – one that examines the darker sides of the human soul with an unflinching eye in a way few films dare or even dream of doing.
From the opening scene of alone in the ring as the opening credits roll, to the closing title card quoting John IX, 24-26, Raging Bull is a gripping, gut-wrenching cinematic experience.
LaMotta: (after being beaten half to death by Sugar Ray Robinson, but staying on his feet) “You didn’t get me down, Ray”
DeNiro trained relentlessly for this film, to the point where he competed in three fights and won two. LaMotta said that he had what it would take to be a contender. For the final scene, filming was stopped so he could gain 60 pounds to portray the older LaMotta.
Frank Vincent, Deniro, Pesci and Scorsese all worked together in this film, Goodfellas and Casino. Sharon Stone auditioned for the role of Vickie but was able to work with the director 15 years later for Casino.
There are 114 F-bombs in the movie.
This is one of many collaborations between Scorsese and legendary film editor Thelma Schoonmaker. She had been unable to work on previous Scorsese films because he was not admitted into the all-male Editor’s Guild. Thelma has three Oscars (this, The Aviator and The Departed) to Scorsese’s one.