Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty
Director: Martin Scorsese
Running Time: 129 mins
Raging Bull is an American film about the true story of Jake La Motta, a talented boxer whose rise to the top of his sport was tainted by a rapidly deteriorating personal life.
This is an absolutely fascinating film, one that tells the story of the fall from greatness in striking fashion from beginning to end. With direction from none other than Martin Scorsese, the film is complete with a dark and gritty atmosphere throughout, furthered by a truly stellar lead performance from Robert De Niro, bringing the incredible true story of Jake La Motta to enthralling life.
Let’s start off with De Niro, as he’s arguably what stands out most about this film. Much like his intense turn in Taxi Driver, this performance sees De Niro completely disappear into the character, as he gives one of his most emotionally, dramatically engrossing and physically demanding performances of his illustrious career.
Above all, it’s that brilliant balance that he strikes between showing the fiery, sporting side of La Motta and the unavoidable tragedy that was caused by no one other than himself, as his fortunes go from bad to worse as he alienates everyone and everything in his personal life over the years.
The boxing scenes are thrilling to watch, and De Niro’s incredible physical performance brings the power and pain of a real boxing fight into stark light, while he still manages to keep the character’s emotional arc at the centre of focus, continually demonstrating La Motta’s inner turmoil even when he’s dominating in the ring.
Meanwhile, it’s the story outside of the ring where De Niro’s performance really impresses. Alongside co-stars Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty, both of whom are excellent, De Niro is a towering presence at every moment, with his character’s intimidating demeanour proving a constantly striking presence that, in tandem with his devastating fall from grace due to that very trait, makes him absolutely spellbinding to watch.
But of course, as strong as his performance is, the film isn’t all about De Niro, and that’s where we turn our attention to director Martin Scorsese. Famous for his countless crime dramas that have become classics across the world, Raging Bull feels like the film that sits at the start of his great successes, although it’s still not all that similar to the likes of Goodfellas and Casino.
On the one hand, you could say that Raging Bull isn’t quite as thrilling or energetic as some of Scorsese’s later productions, simply because it’s a slower and quieter piece that puts a more intimate focus on one character’s downfall – arguably more so than any of his other films.
On the other, Raging Bull is still a very well-directed film that goes beyond its striking use of black-and-white imagery to really unnerve and enthrall you with its dark drama. That slow pace and quiet atmosphere may mean that this isn’t Scorsese’s most immediately exciting film, but the fact that it is so strikingly low-key means that the emotional centre of the story is all the more powerful, something that I was really impressed by and had me fully engrossed in the plot from beginning to end.
And in the end, it’s that true-life story that’s the icing on the cake. With a structure similar to many of Scorsese’s greatest films – a hot-headed anti-hero who sees a dramatic fall from grace as those around him begin to distance themselves – Raging Bull is a truly fascinating watch, and with the director’s striking and unique style in this film, along with that exceptional performance from Robert De Niro, it’s a really strong film in pretty much every regard, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.9 overall.