(director: Martin Scorsese; screenwriters: Paul Schrader/Mardik Martin/based on the ”Raging Bull” by Jake La Motta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage; cinematographer: Michael Chapma; editor: Thelma Schoonmaker; cast: Robert De Niro (Jake La Motta), Cathy Moriarty (Vickie La Motta), Joe Pesci (Joey), Frank Vincent (Salvy), Mario Gallo (Mario), Nicholas Colasanto (Tommy Como); Runtime: 129; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff; United Artists; 1980)
“Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin turn in a soulful and intelligent screenplay, one that has blood dripping off the pages.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Martin Scorsese (“Mean Streets”/”Goodfellas”/”Kundun”) helms one of the best boxing biopics ever. It’s on the violent and troubled life of Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro), nicknamed the Raging Bull, who reached the pinnacle of his career in 1949 when he was crowned as the middleweight champ of the world. It’s a brutal film about an angry self-destructive macho man who behaves like an animal and equates everything with violence, including sex and marriage. It’s based on the ”Raging Bull” by Jake La Motta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage. Screenwriters Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin turn in a soulful and intelligent screenplay, one that has blood dripping off the pages.
The story of the Bronx born fighter, fighting his way out of his rough “Little Italy” neighborhood, is told in flashback. It’s set around Jake’s celeb appearance at the Barbizon Plaza Hotel Theater in 1964. It digresses to Jake’s early days in 1941 and his attempts to get a title fight; how during this period he was surrounded by gangsters and was barred from the ring for throwing a fight for his mobster pals; his rehabilitation and comeback to win the crown; and his last defeat at the hands of the great Sugar Ray Robinson. What followed was a declining life as a nightclub personality, growing flabby, and becoming increasingly less sane (as when thrown into a Miami jail on a morals charge and banging his head against the wall while shouting ”Why, why, why?” only to soon say in a self-pitying whimper ”I’m not an animal”).
Joe Pesci plays Jake’s younger brother Joey to perfection; while newcomer Cathy Moriarty plays with assurance Jake’s sexy second wife Vickie. De Niro, who put on fifty pounds to play his menacing Italian-American character, gives a loud performance of a primal man who knows only one way to exist. Scorsese’s great skill is in trying to crack open the shell of a man who relates masculinity to toughness by showing his primitive drives and the cultures that shaped him. It reigns as poetry of spectacle and presents a disturbing vision of such a beastly character, who dished out savagery in the ring, at home and among friends yet rose in his day to be idolized to a certain extent by our pop culture. It should be noted that the boxing sequences might be the best ever done on film.
REVIEWED ON 7/10/2007 GRADE: A