BP’s Top 100 Movie Challenge #74: Raging Bull, by Sarah Brinks
I decided to undertake a movie challenge in 2017. This seemed like a good way to see some classic movies that I have unfortunately never seen. The Battleship Pretension Top 100 list provided such a challenge.
Raging Bull is a film I respect but I don’t actually like it very much. I feel that way about most of Martin Scorsese’s films. He is a director I have a lot of respect for but he does not make films that appeal to me for the most part. Raging Bull is expertly made and beautifully shot in black in white and the story is dramatically compelling but it is about terrible people and a sport that I abhor.
The boxing is a big reason that I had never seen Raging Bull before. I do not get any enjoyment from watching two people beat the crap out of each other in a ring. That said, I appreciate that it is a very cinematic sport so I understand the appeal for a filmmaker. The film doesn’t gloss over the brutality of the sport nor does it entirely glorify it, which I appreciate. There is a remarkable shot during La Motta’s last fight with Sugar Ray when the film slows down and the lighting changes and La Motta is trapped against the ropes. Sugar Ray is back-lit and looks truly monstrous, you wonder if he had anything left to punish La Motta with, when he winds back and starts beating him again in real-time. That was about the only time in the boxing sequences that I enjoyed.
The performances in the film are really impressive but it’s hard to root for anyone because they’re all pretty terrible people. I felt the most sorry for Vickie. She was a young girl when she got swept up with La Motta, she should have known better but he was a charming local celebrity and he chose her and she probably saw a real chance at a good life with him. Of course, she ended up unhappy and abused. I was so happy for her when she finally made the choice to take her kids and leave him.
I think Raging Bull is the first film I have actually liked Joe Pesci in. Usually I find him irritating at best, but he was great in Raging Bull as La Motta’s brother Joey. Joey is the smarter, more level-headed brother who is often the only thing keeping La Motta from making huge mistakes. Of course, there reaches a point where he can’t take Jake’s crap anymore and he finally walks away from him. Pesci brilliantly played the less successful sibling who is loyal but not willing to be a scapegoat after a point. It was probably my favorite performance of the film.
Robert De Niro’s performance as Jake La Motta is certainly worthy of the Academy Award he won for it. He captures the type of character someone would have to be in order to be a champion boxer. La Motta is a fighter through and through. He approaches life like a hammer and everything is a nail. That is also what makes him a completely unlikable person. He treats his first wife like garbage and eventually does the same to Vickie. His paranoid, jealous insecurities say so much about him as a person and really made him repellant to me. His weight gain for the latter part of the film is impressive and only serves to make him even more grotesque. I do have to admit that I was also distracted by his nose prosthetic. I’m not sure it added much but it gave him a distinct look.
I’ve decided to rate each film using an arbitrary scale based on the board game Battleship (lowest: Destroyer, Submarine, Cruiser, Battleship, highest: Carrier)
Raging Bull ranking: Cruiser