“You didn’t get me down, Ray”: ‘Raging Bull’ Review

Posted in Screening Room by - November 30, 2017
“You didn’t get me down, Ray”: ‘Raging Bull’ Review

There’s nothing quite like the cinematic uppercut that is Martin Scorsese’s, Raging Bull. What could’ve been a conventional biopic of middleweight champion Jake LaMotta is instead turned into a ferocious sports drama with a performance for the ages by Robert De Niro.

Written by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ) and Mardik Martin, Raging Bull tells the personal (in and out of the ring) story of Jake LaMotta; the film also delves into his relationship with his family and wife. Raging Bull is a sports drama, but it’s also an unconventional one at that; Scorsese is as interested in LaMotta’s relationships in his life as he is in the boxing sequences. One of the most incredible aspects about Raging Bull is how incredibly raw the relationship drama in the film truly is with De Niro going toe to toe with his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) and his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty). The dialogue scenes between the three characters feel as powerful and visceral as the groundbreaking boxing sequences in the film. De Niro rightfully won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and his performance shows it; as complicated and physically demanding as he’s ever been.

Speaking of boxing sequences, Raging Bull’s iconic scenes are absolutely visually stunning showcases for cinematographer Michael Chapman. Shot starkly in black and white (in a way that recalls an early Italian neo-realist film), Chapman and Scorsese portray the ring as a beautiful negative space where LaMotta can exhibit all his animalistic rage and personal frustrations on his opponents. Whether it’s the incredible close-ups or the beautiful use of slow motion, there’s no boxing film that can touch the way Scorsese’s film looks just regarding pure visual dynamism and elegance. Sure, there’s an intensely graphic nature and violence to his boxing scenes, but there are an artistry and profound character statement that he achieves in the ring sequences. Raging Bull honestly does feel like you are up there with LaMotta as he’s fighting his opponents but also himself and all his inner demons.

Aside from its breathtaking visuals and compositions, Raging Bull is also a wonderfully compelling human drama about family, second chances, and forgiveness that just happens to be incredibly well written as well. Even though it really does feel like a beautiful Italian neo-realist film there’s also a lot of the personal melancholy that is in Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront (to the point where even LaMotta references it in the film).

Even though De Niro and Scorsese have collaborated in various cinematic masterpieces in Raging Bull their collaboration feels almost divine; like the work of two titans of cinema working at the very apex of their artistry.

It might not have the flash of Goodfellas or the urban style of Taxi Driver but Raging Bull is a gorgeous piece of drama that transcends its sports biopic genre to become an unforgettable work of art and a reflection on tortured masculinity and broken relationships. With its beautiful black and white cinematography and riveting performances, Raging Bull not only holds up as one of Scorsese’s finest but as one of the best films ever made.

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He is an avid movie fan and loves to write about movies perhaps a little too much. He also considers Casino Royale to be the best James Bond film ever made and he's ready to defend at any moment.
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