1973. Mean Streets. The first collaboration of Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro who would soon become the greatest frequent collaborators in cinema history creating masterpieces of art such as Taxi Driver, Goodfellas and of course Raging Bull which is not only one of the greatest sports movie ever made, it is one of the greatest films to come out of the 1980s. It is Scorsese's finest film and it is also Robert De Niro's finest film in which he delivers his greatest performance of his career. Raging Bull lost the Best Picture Oscar to what now?
Robert De Niro plays Jake La Motta a boxer who rises through the ranks to become Middleweight World Champion. Martin Scorsese's film is not scared to throw the punches as it is an unflinching look at the life of Jake La Motta, his temperament, his insecurity, his paranoia, his jealousy, his use of violence against his brother and wife, and his ruthlessness in the ring. Told in quite magnificent black and white cinematography the biography of Jake La Motta's rise and fall is an enthralling and unforgettable one. Raging Bull is an experience that every film fan must experience for themselves.
Reviewing classics or masterpieces is a difficult task, it's impossible to do the film any justice, Raging Bull is one of those films. It needs to be seen for you to appreciate what a work of art it truly is. Martin Scorsese crafts a film so genuine, so magnificent and so immersive that Raging Bull is an absolute masterpiece that is almost beyond criticism because there is so little to criticise in terms of artistic merit. The filmmaking aspects of Raging Bull are flawless; the fight scenes in the boxing ring are a work of genius, they are brutal and Intense. The blood splatters from the opponent's mouth and the jaw guard goes spinning out as a fist collides with the opponent's head with so much brute force the viewer is left breathless. The cinematography gets you right into the heart of the action and it has such an incredible effect on the viewer that it is impossible not to admire the way Raging Bull has been so effortlessly crafted to the extent of perfection. The editing is magnificent; you get these stunning, trademark slow motion shots that increase the intensity in the ring. Michael Chapman is the unsung hero that makes Raging Bull the masterpiece that it is with his impressive and stunning cinematography.
In terms of filmmaking prowess Martin Scorsese ranks among the greatest of directors, in terms of acting prowess Robert De Niro ranks the greatest of actors both De Niro and Scorsese work splendidly together, as they always do, bringing the complex character of Jake La Motta to the very forefront of outstanding characters in cinema, they both cement his place in cinema history. For a character to be remembered, to be considered great, they either have to be likable, one you engage with or one that is remembered for being such an incredible presence on screen for all the wrong reasons. Jake La Motta obviously falls into the latter category. He is a jealous man, he in an insecure man, constantly suspicious of his wife's whereabouts, who she is with and what she is doing, constantly paranoid that any man may try to undermine him and have their way with his wife Vicki La Motta (Cathy Moriarty). In the ring La Motta maybe a sporting hero but outside he is quite the opposite, Scorsese makes no attempt to make La Motta a likeable figure, he beats his wife, he beats his brother as he drops from prize winning fighter (there is one stunning scene in which Jake goes up to Sugar Ray Robinson and says, with a bruised, bloody and broken face 'You never knocked me down') to an overweight dropout performing comedy gigs and spending time in jail. Oh! How the mighty have fallen. Robert De Niro's massive change in appearance makes him almost unrecognizable.
Robert De Niro plays this role with skill and an admirable ferocity, it quite simply is one of the most powerful and electrifying performances in cinema, he rightly won the Academy Award for best Actor, while Scorsese shamefully did not win in the Best Director category (he however would do so in 26 years time for The Departed, when he really should have won it four years before 1980). Robert De Niro does not act as Jake La Motta but he becomes him, which is why De Niro is able to give a sublime and faultless performance. De Niro's dedication to this role is unbelievable; he gained over 60 pounds to portray the later life Jake La Motta, he also inspired Scorsese and Paul Schrader (who also wrote the script or Taxi Driver) to be a part of the project. De Niro's performance is one so desired by a filmmaker that it takes away light from other aspects that also deserve to have praise heaped upon them, Michael Chapman's cinematography, the score that included classics from the likes of the Italian musician Pietro Mascagni, and Joe Pesci (in his first major role) as Joey La Motta, the brother of Jake La Motta.
Robert De Niro's performance and the film Raging Bull is an assault on the senses and emotions it takes no prisoners, as it's no nonsense violence (which was the major criticism upon the film's release) is still as shocking and brutal as it was thirty one years ago. Thirty one years and Raging Bull has lost none its audacity, its brutality and its power to shock. Scorsese has always been a bold, influential and incredible filmmaker; Raging Bull is possibly his boldest and most incredible work of his illustrious career. Raging Bull will forever be a masterpiece. Raging Bull is a gift to those who love film. I can only hope that in my review, I gave Raging Bull justice.