#58) Raging Bull (1980)
OR “Requiem for a Middleweight”
Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin. Based on the memoir “Raging Bull: My Story” by Jake LaMotta with Joseph Carter and Peter Savage.
Class of 1990
The Plot: Robert De Niro plays boxing champion Jake LaMotta from the height of his career in the early ‘40s to his slide into relative obscurity in the late ‘50s. His tempestuous relationships with his brother/manager Joey (Joe Pesci) and his second wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) are also examined in contrast to his success in the ring.
Why It Matters: “Hard hitting is the character, hard hitting is the film”. The NFR’s look at “Raging Bull” begins with that line and then praises pretty much everyone involved in the film. An essay by Jami Bernard continues the love-fest, and laments how the film couldn’t be made today. “Raging Bull” was also the first film to be included on the NFR after the minimum 10-year eligibility period.
But Does It Really?: Now that’s how you do a biopic. Scorsese and team manage to avoid any of the trappings of a standard biography and turn La Motta’s life and times into an almost Shakespearean tragedy. De Niro is the main attraction here, giving arguably his best performance in a career filled with so many, but the work of relative newcomers Pesci and Moriarty more than hold their own alongside De Niro’s. Everyone feels very natural, so much that the performances feel more like good jazz than good acting. I could go on and on about the brilliant choices made in every department, but I’ll just leave it at an A+ to everyone involved.
Shout Outs: Jake famously quotes “On the Waterfront” at the end.
Everybody Gets One: Cathy Moriarty, Nicholas “Coach” Colasanto, and pretty much every minor actor in the film.
Title Track: The M.C. at the Copa introduces Jake as “The Raging Bull”.
Seriously, Oscars?: De Niro won a richly deserved Best Actor Oscar, as did Thelma Schoonmaker for her inventive editing (she’s done every Scorsese film since then). Despite leading the pack with eight nominations and being hailed by many as the best film of the year, “Raging Bull” lost Best Picture and Best Director to Robert Redford’s good but more manipulative “Ordinary People”. If it had been for Handsomest Director I could understand, but come on.
- LaMotta’s original memoir doesn’t mention his brother. Yikes.
- As of this writing, Jake LaMotta is still alive at 95!
- Clearly everyone’s having too much fun throwing stuntmen around in that first fight.
- Scorsese’s obsession with blondes is second only to Hitchcock.
- Blink and you’ll miss young John Turturro in his film debut sitting at a table with Jake and Joey.
- Mini-golf on a first date? Bold move, LaMotta.
- That montage with the still photography and the color home movies? My compliments to the chef.
- You think these LaMotta boys had issues with women?
- As a longtime “Cheers” fan, it’s fun to watch Colasanto in a role that is night and day from lovable doofus Coach.
- With this film we get the first round of “Joe Pesci vs. Frank Vincent”. Their characters get into a fight here that will escalate with each of them getting to kill the other one in future Scorsese films.
- De Niro’s good in every scene, but there’s this amazing moment of silence after he smacks Cathy Moriarty where he just stares down Joe Pesci. It gave me chills. How the hell did he do that?
- Bet watching this film makes you feel a whole lot better about your own family, now don’t it?
- Back to the Oscars for a second, how did this film not win for its Sound Mixing? The eventual winner, “The Empire Strikes Back”, is impressive and flashy, but this film’s sound is just so much more impactful on the film as a whole. Another count of “Seriously, Oscars?” for this film.
- This is the film where De Niro famously put on 60-70 pounds to play LaMotta post-retirement. It’s a feat I don’t think anyone should try to break.
- Speaking of, plus-sized De Niro kinda looks like Will Sasso doing his De Niro.
- That’s Scorsese as the stagehand at the very end. The giveaway is the brief look at his late ‘70s Charles Manson hairdo.
- The film is dedicated to Scorsese’s former NYU film professor and mentor Haig Manoogian, who passed away just before the film’s completion. He is also posthumously thanked in 1982’s “Zapped!” What a range of influence that man had.
- LaMotta co-wrote a second memoir, “Raging Bull II: Continuing the Story of Jake LaMotta” and pushed to get a film sequel made. Legally, the film had to be retitled “The Bronx Bull” and is not a sequel, even though it totally is.
- This Eddie Izzard bit
- And this unsuccessful audition
Further Listening: Did you know that Joe Pesci briefly attempted a singing career? I will not rest until this becomes common knowledge (or until Pesci kicks my ass. I’m betting on the latter).