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The Westfield Voice

Film Review: Raging Bull

Scott Hearon
Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta.

Raging Bull is a biopic that follows the life of Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), a boxer with big hands and a short fuse. Following Jake’s path to becoming champ is his brother and coach Joey (Joe Pesci).

This 1980’s drama shows the darkness of this self-titled “Raging Bull” and his psychopathic way of seeing the world. You will sometimes like him. You will mostly hate him. But director Martin Scorsese intends to home in a black and white masterpiece that you can’t look away from.

From the shot composition in the boxing ring – the cinematography from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre scene is a personal favorite – to the acting and music, the film is both beautifully made and shot. Scorsese is particularly great at making every scene feel alive. Joey and Jake can have a simple conversation in a pool, and you will still be glued to the screen because there’s just so much life to the setting, from the families having a good time on the benches to the boys doing cannon balls in the background.

It’s not a lot, but it adds so much more to the scene because it feels like the world is constantly moving with or without the characters. Scorsese is excellent at not only building these characters from the ground up, but even the world around them to give off a realistic setting that makes you feel nostalgic for a time in which you never existed.

It’s interesting to follow a story that attempts to encompass a real-life figure in all of their glory and shortcomings. While other films like Elvis and Bohemian Rhapsody try to even the highs and lows of their protagonists’ respective careers, director Martin Scorsese goes full scorched earth into Jake’s life.

Jake is narcissistic, paranoid, abusive, manipulative, and completely terrifying when he wants to be. What makes him even more frightening is that the movie repeatedly shows that no one can really stand up to him. He can take multiple punches to the face and not even flinch, but only a couple of well-timed shots puts most of his opponents to sleep. Even Joey can barely control him until he’s let loose in the ring.

But even though he’s an unmistakable monster throughout this 129-minute runtime, there is a sense of pity in witnessing his downfall. Jake LaMotta’s self-destructive behaviors come from a man who had to fight every day to get to where he is. And, while this doesn’t mean that his actions are excusable, you do feel something seeing a powerful animal become a shadow of his former self in the end.

The other main cast members, Joe Pesci (Joey) and Cathy Moriarty (Vickie LaMotta), are also fantastic. You always feel like they’re prisoners in Jake’s life. Cathy was sometimes the highlight of the film because you can feel her frustrations build up as the movie progresses and her relationship with Jake worsens.

Any time Vickie expresses an opinion that goes against Jake’s, she either gets insulted by him or takes a beating. Her sometimes reclused acting makes Vickie seem like a shallow husk who’s just used to being emotionally, psychologically, and even physically abused by a person who claims to love her.

Jake’s own brother isn’t that far off as well. Joey might not be as constantly abused as Vickie, but you can tell his permissiveness towards Jake comes from fear and not love. Joe Pesci always plays some sort of big boss figure in films (The Irishman, Goodfellas, Casino, etc.), so it’s interesting to see him play a character who isn’t as imposing, like a Tommy DeVito.

Martin Scorsese on the set of “Raging Bull” (1980) with Robert De Niro. (Chartoff-Winkler Productions)

There’s a reason why this is considered by many to be one of Scorsese’s greatest hits. He peels away the cushion that so many biopics have in order to give us a deeper understanding in the mind of such a controversial figure. It tells a tale of the rise, fall, and possible rebirth of a human being who encompasses the evilest of sins.

But, as vile as Jake LaMotta was as a husband, boxer, and brother, does someone like him deserve redemption? It’s an interesting question that even the director himself wouldn’t want to give an answer to.

The film is considered to be one of the greatest movies of all time and it’s easy to see why. It’s a character driven masterpiece that will continue to be timeless in years to come. 5/5

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