Raging Bull (1980) (R)
Martin Scorsese's "Raging Bull" is one of the most highly revered movies about boxing—scratch that, it's one of the most highly revered movies of all time. But what makes it so classic? Certainly it's not the story, for not much happens in the film. It can't be the characters, because I feel nothing but contempt for all of them. It possibly could be the way the film was shot and edited that makes it great, and here I feel is the best argument.
But a film has to be more than just pretty looking; and "Raging Bull" did not satisfy any more merit than its face value.
The first film that I started likening "Raging Bull" to was Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront"...they're both about boxers who don't live in the best circumstances. There's more to it than that, but we're just scraping the surface here—later in the film, near the end, there is a huge reference to Kazan's film including an entire section of copied dialogue...but, yet again, I digress.
"Raging Bull" is about Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro in an Oscar winning role). Jake is a boxer who is psychologically really messed up in the head. This isn't evident from the first moment; but it doesn't take much screen time to figure out that there's something wrong with Jake (my hypothesis is bipolar disorder...but I'm not a doctor).
He's confident, painfully jealous, and also suffering from self-doubt. One of the good things that "Raging Bull" brings us is a delightfully complicated protagonist—half the fun of the movie is unraveling the character.
Jake's brother Joey (Joe Pesci) acts as his manager. This would make sense since family is a huge part of most every Scorsese film.
We see Jake box and he's quite ruthless in the ring—he won't stop even when he's killing the other guy.
Jake's personal life is nothing to praise; his wife and he are always fighting (at one point she throws dishes out of the window at him while screaming profanities at the top of her lungs). One of the opening scenes has them throwing such a tantrum that they wreck the apartment...what were they fighting about? A steak....I don't get it either.
Like most Scorsese movies, "Raging Bull" is not driven by events in the plot but by the surroundings and the characters themselves. No one develops people like Mr. Martin does.
But then, there's the part of the film that I really hated—the treatment of women. Scorsese is never that kind to the fair sex, just look at "Goodfellas" or "Casino" (one of his finest); I think the nicest he has gotten is in "Hugo" and that's a kid's movie so...what am I trying to say?
Women get bullied around, kept on a leash, abused, and occupy only a small fraction of the screen time.
Jake's muse (after his first wife) comes in the form of Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) who is only fifteen when Jake meets her. For someone who seems to be only half of Jake's age, there is a wisdom in her eyes and a comic disbelief to her body. Ms. Moriarty is fooling no one about her age.
The years pass and Jake's aggression and psychosis start to show more and it all revolves around Vickie—he becomes obsessed with the idea of her having an affair, though she swears that she only loves Jake and I believe her but Jake doesn't.
Jake's anger is vented in the ring and he becomes a rising success, some scenes are very similar to "Rocky" which came four years earlier.
The movie is filled with questions...not questions about the plot, but questions in the dialogue. I have never heard so many interrogative sentences in my life. Jake questions Joey who interviews Vickie who gets beaten for it—it's two knives short of giving a different meaning to the phrase "vicious circle".
What I can't escape from is my absolute disdain for each and every of these characters. I don't feel anything for them, no sympathy...just hatred. When you hate the people you are watching, it's not a good place to start.
So, what is it about "Raging Bull" that makes it great?
I really don't know.
Certainly, it's appealing to look at—Scorsese is a master and nobody is saying otherwise; I just wished that he picked a different story to bring to screen.
Two boxing movies have won the Best Picture Oscar—the aforementioned "Rocky" and "Million Dollar Baby" which are both better movies than this. "Rocky" is more likable and "Million Dollar Baby" is more moving.
To give some Academy history just know that "Raging Bull" is one of the sad songs of the Oscars. Most people agree that it should have won Best Picture and a plethora of other awards instead of the measly two that it swept up (besides De Niro, it won film editing).
Keep in mind what beat "Raging Bull" for the award—a small picture called "Ordinary People" which carries twice the emotional impact that this film does.
I'm not saying that "Raging Bull" isn't a masterpiece...perhaps it is. Many people extol its virtues; but I am not one of those people.
Score: 2 and a half stars out of 4
Posted by Micah Jones