4. Raging Bull (1980)

The life of boxer Jake LaMotta, whose violence and temper that led him to the top in the ring destroyed his life outside of it.

Raging Bull is a film that is often synonymous with 1980s American culture. Directed by Martin Scorsese, Raging Bull oozes a particular brand of masculine energy. The film, starring Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, and Joe Pesci, introduces the audience to boxer Jake LaMotta at the near end of his career in the public eye. We then quickly jump from 1964 to 1946 and then another jump to 1941. Here’s where we meet a young Jake LaMotta, portrayed masterfully by Robert De Niro. We follow him through his first major loss against Jimmy Reeves, through he and his brother’s involvement with the mafia, and through meeting and marrying a woman (ahem, child) named Vickie (Moriarty). We follow LaMotta through his career lows (there’s a lot of them) and career highs (there’s only one). And that’s it. That’s the movie.  

Let’s talk about the filmmaking aspect of Raging Bull because it is, in fact, very stylistic. Scorsese showed us the 1940s through a 1980s lens, with his quick zooms, slow motion, quick editing, disorienting lighting, and mismatched audio/visual aspects. The climactic fight scene shows those techniques the best. The whole clip is below, if you want to watch it. I mean, it’s not really spoilers. This is all based on factual events that happened literally 71 years ago. Just grab an almanac. 

From a filmmaking stand point, honestly, that’s all I’ve got. The screenplay written by Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader didn’t feel like anything to get too excited over. The music that was chosen for the film by Scorsese, with the help of Robbie Robertson, just didn’t seem to fit quite right. The Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana by Pietro Mascagni serves as the main theme for our fighter. And, I just felt that the music was too grand for the man that we were watching. 

The one thing, however, that I did get very excited over were the performances given by the three lead actors, specifically De Niro. I’ve watched five different films that are on this list that star Robert De Niro and he blew me away in every single one of them. Raging Bull is a film that he really loses himself. At a certain point, as a viewer, I had to remind myself that it was De Niro that I was watching. With the help of prosthetics, De Niro becomes Jake LaMotta in a masterful way. He absolutely deserved that award win for his portrayal. 

Now, as many of you may know, I am, in fact, a woman. And, as a woman, I tend to pay attention to women in film. And, boy oh boy, let’s talk about women in Raging Bull. Women, from the beginning of the film, are treated like absolute garbage. We are introduced to young LaMotta while he is berating his first wife in the kitchen. LaMotta, while still married, then turns his attention to…well, I’ll just say it: LaMotta sets his sights on a literal child. Vickie, who he will come to marry, is revealed to be 15 after their first date. And that doesn’t deter LaMotta one bit. As I said, he goes on to marry Vickie and she has a couple of kids with Jake. He hits his wife over and over and over again. He’s constantly suspicious that Vickie is cheating on him and constantly accuses her of sleeping with other men. This eventually leads LaMotta to accuse his own brother Joey (Pesci) of sleeping with Vickie, which effectively ends their manager and brother relationship. Joey, though, isn’t much better. He speaks to his wife the same way Jake does. These are pretty much the only two women in the film. And that sucks. 

I guess I just don’t understand why the story of Jake LaMotta was a story worth telling. Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not think that Raging Bull is a bad film. I’m just not sure or can’t really see why it comes in at number 4 on AFI’s list. 

All in all, I’d say I’m disappointed. This was the first time I had ever watched Raging Bull and to say that my expectations were high would be an understatement. With these last 5 films, I was really hoping to be impacted emotionally. You know, like I was with Vertigo or Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. But, so far, I’ve been severely underwhelmed. 

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