DeNiro's greatest role makes Raging Bull a tempestuous, yet classic biopic.
Jake LaMotta was an incredible boxer of the late 40's and 50's. In his personal life, however, LaMotta displayed an almost inhuman destructive side. He was an abusive, jealous, and violent monster of a man. Predictably, this causes LaMotta much personal loss during his lifetime. The movie Raging Bull is the long-standing testament to this fact. In watching this film, considered by many to be one of the greatest movies of all-time, the audience is allowed to inside the world of a man that allowed his rages and urges to destroy everything good within him. It is at times frustrating to watch the behavior of Jake LaMotta, but it is ultimately much more tantalizing, as one cannot help but get sucked in, and at times even root for the "Bronx Bull."
There are several supporting performances of note in Raging Bull. First and foremost is that of Joe Pesci, in his breakthrough role, as Jake's brother Joey LaMotta. Unlike the roles that would define his career later on(Goodfellas, Casino), here Pesci plays the level-headed man, as opposed to the hot-headed Jake. Pesci is excellent in this role, as aman trying to find a way to control the anger that resides in his brother's soul, only to ultimately fail and suffer mightily for his troubles. The other great standout is from Cathy Moriarty as Vickie, LaMotta's second and most suffering wife. Like Pesci, this was the breakthrough role for Moriarty, and like Pesci, she displayed remarkable skill. Moriarty gave Vickie the warmth, intensity, and the vindictiveness that one would expect would be needed to deal with a man like Jake. Both Pesci and Moriarty would be nominated for multiple supporting actor awards, but Pesci would receive the only one on this front, from the National Board of Review (that little tidbit was brought to you by Wikipedia; that's how you use a citation, plagiarizers).
As Jake LaMotta, Robert DeNiro gives his career defining performance. This is not hyperbole; what DeNiro does here is nothing less than phenomenal, and sets a standard level of acting for his generation similar to that which Marlon Brando set for his peers nearly thirty years earlier in On The Waterfront. The viciousness DeNiro tackles this role with mirrors the savageness of LaMotta's soul. The most famous aspect of this movie, and DeNiro's dedication to the role, is how he trained for the film. DeNiro worked out rigorously, and even took boxing lessons with LaMotta himself, to get ready for the boxing scenes (which, by the way, absolutely blow Rocky out of the water in terms of realism). DeNiro also went the opposite way in training, as he gained roughly sixty pounds to appear as a hefty older version of "The Bull." Everything DeNiro does is nuanced to perfection. It is no wonder that he won his first, and sadly only Best Actor Award from the Academy (the other two, Godfather Part II and Awakenings, were for Best Supporting Actor). Jake LaMotta is DeNiro's signature role, and one that defines a generation.
Raging Bull is not only Robert DeNiro's greatest triumph, it is Martin Scorsese's magnum opus. Exquisitely shot, DeNiro gets so much out of his relatively inexperienced cast, and allows his one, already legendary star chew as much scenery as possible. Scorsese has no problem letting DeNiro go over the top here--it is what is needed. It is the way Scorsese frames the movie around DeNiro's tour de force that makes Raging Bull so satisfying. Another stroke of genius by Scorsese is the use of black-and-white instead of color. It gives the movie a tremendous atmosphere, and may allow deeper thinkers in the audience to realize there is a message being conveyed by this usage of black-and-white: It is how LaMotta sees the world. LaMotta is always right (white), and anyone that disagrees is always wrong (black). There is no room for shades of gray, and it is the belief here that Scorsese demonstrates this with a deft purpose. In my eyes, it is a shame that he did not win the Academy Award for directing--he lost to Robert Redford, who directed Ordinary People, which also beat Raging Bull for the Best Picture Award. Much like Paul Newman and John Wayne, Scorsese would have to wait many years before finally winning the coveted award, and likewise won for a movie (The Departed) that virtually no one would say is one of his best works.
The visuals of Raging Bull are spectacular. As I said before, the movie possesses some of the most realistic boxing scenes ever captured on film. In what is easily my favorite scene, the beating that Sugar Ray Robinson, played by Johnny Barnes, gave LaMotta against the ropes is one of the most violent scenes in movie history. What is wonderful is how realistic it looked, even as the blood streamed down LaMotta's face. Also, the movie is sharply done, as evidenced by its Oscar for Best Editing. Scorsese and his crew crafted a tight movie, no excess fat here (except for DeNiro's, as the older LaMotta).
Although Raging Bull did not win the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1980, it has gained tremendous acclaim since then, and has surpassed Ordinary People in the minds of almost everyone. Raging Bull has been called by most critics the greatest film of the 80's, with many going so far as to place it within their top ten movies of all-time. Indeed, this is a trend that has continued for Raging Bull. The original AFI list of 100 greatest American films, made in 1998, ranked Raging Bull as the 24th best movie; the 2007 list gave it the 4th spot. These bits of information are a testament to the superior work that is Raging Bull. As more people see it through the years, the more fans it gains. It is a legacy only the truly great are blessed with. It is a legacy Raging Bull possesses.
(This review is an ejk1 original. I hope you have enjoyed, and for those who knew nothing about this film, you're welcome.)