Wednesday, 26 August 2015

I've Just Seen: Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull (1980)
Director: Martin Scorsese

Raging Bull has one of the best opening credits scenes in any film. The black-and-white cinematography is slowed-down as Jake LaMotta prepares himself for a fight in the ring. Cameras flash almost hypnotically, and LaMotta's moves are ballet-like. The music, from opera Cavelleria Rusticana is wonderful, its melancholic romance embodies Jake LaMotta's life; the music's delicacy also contrasts with the bloody violence and anger of LaMotta.

This is a 'biopic,' but is not presented as a 'best of' portrayal of a person's life, a trap many biopics fall into. Instead, Scorsese and De Niro have painted a portrait of a man whose violence leads him to the heights of his sport, and ultimately leaves him isolated from everyone he loves. I forgot that I was watching De Niro while watching the film: the physical transformation is complete. It is not just the broken nose that stays with him throughout the film, but the thickening of his body as LaMotta ages. All the performances are fantastic, but De Niro is clearly giving the best of his career.

I was surprised the read on Wikipedia that Raging Bull performed only so-so when it premiered; its reputation has deservedly grown over the years. Scorsese is great at portraying tortured masculinity, something he explored in many of his films; Taxi Driver feels like an ideal companion piece to this film (though that would be a tough double bill to sit through). One of best from one of the best.


  1. This is an ugly story beautifully told. While plenty of people think this should've won Best Picture, I agree with it not winning that. Scorsese was robbed for Best Director, though, and De Niro was easily the right choice for Best Actor. "Best of his career" says a lot when it refers to De Niro, but I'd be hard-pressed to think of when he was better.

    1. I completely agree with you. 1980 was a strong year, and several of the films deserved the Best Picture Oscar.

      Of the Scorsese films I have seen, this or Taxi Driver would take the top spot. In fact, I don't think I could separate them: De Niro and Scorsese clearly bring out the best in each other.