There's almost nothing left to say about RAGING BULL that hasn't been said, but here I am to give it a shot anyway. Robert De Niro is the best actor that I will probably ever see on screen. De Niro is believable in just about every role I've seen him in. In MEAN STREETS, he was basically playing himself, in TAXI DRIVER he was an out-of-touch psychotic with good intentions, in GODFATHER PART II, he was playing the younger version of a character developed by our other greatest actor Marlon Brando. But in RAGING BULL, he took his acting to another level.
De Niro didn't just change his appearance, with the famous 50 extra pounds to show boxer Jake LaMotta in his fattening middle age and the huge, often-broken nose. He actually seems to inhabit the role. His eyes reflect all the pieces of the La Motta's personality: the paranoia, the love, the brutality, the drive, the killer instinct in the ring, even the misguided narcicism that would lead a boxer from New York to actually think he'd be entertaining as a night club host while spouting poetry and one-liners. Each of these parts of La Motta's personality seem to be coming out of De Niro's pores. The same uncontrolled rage that made him a champion in the ring, keeps him from sustaining any kind of relationship outside the ring.
Watching De Niro is like watching the eye of a hurricane, calm until the inevitable force of the storm begins reducing everything around it to rubble. Having said all this about the masterpiece of De Niro's performance, this is really Scorsese's film.
De Niro actually took the story of Jake La Motta to Martin Scorsese to make. Scorsese took a couple of years before he knew how it should be filmed. It has become, to many, both the best film of the 1980s and among the best films of all time. In terms of storytelling, I find it amazing that the tale of a lug-headed boxer with exactly one redeeming quality [he's good at boxing] could sustain interest over two hours. This is due to De Niro to be sure, but it also takes a master storyteller to put so many repulsive images on screen and still have the audience's rapt attention. La Motta is a bully, who mentally and physically abuses every one around him. Yet, we need to see what happens next.
But the storytelling mastery that Scorsese gives us is nothing next to his utter technical brilliance at displaying his vision. The film is in black and white, which makes it seem more historically accurate for the early fights, but more importantly, shows how La Motta sees his whole life. La Motta is at his best when things mean one thing or the other. In the boxing ring, his only thought is to pummel his opponent in the head repeatedly until that opponent loses consciousness. In real-life there are no such 'him or me' confrontations. La Motta never seems to realize this, even in his older years. Scorsese uses the actual radio broadcasts from La Motta fights as his soundtrack during the fight sequences, which are brilliantly shot and have been repeated hundreds of times since. The simple image of the flashbulb popping in slow motion; the fact that during the fights, the camera is inside the ropes at all times except for one; the nearly symphonic editing that has La Motta hit twice from one angle, then twice from another, which Scorsese has since said was entirely scripted and not edited later; the way the ring becomes bigger as La Motta begins to lose a fight, making him appear smaller; the slow-motion blood, followed by the quick-motion fall of Sugar Ray Robinson; the haunting sound as punch after punch lands. The technical brilliance of these sequences put Scorsese in the upper ranks of directors forever. We had been so used to ROCKY matches where he takes so much punishment that it begins to seem cartoony. The crowd I watch with turned their heads and whinced as La Motta boxed, it was so realistic.
RAGING BULL is a great chance to see two masters at the top of their game. Shown at the Mighty Castro Theater in San Francisco as part of the Library Of Congress Film Registry Tour.
Jake La Motta ... Robert De Niro [Mean Streets, Bang The Drum Slowly, The Godfather, Part II, Taxi Driver, Once Upon A Time In America, The Mission, Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam, Angel Heart, The Untouchables, Midnight Run, We're No Angels, Awakenings, GoodFellas, Cape Fear (91), Guilty By Suspicion, Backdraft, Thunderheart, A Bronx Tale, Mad Dog And Glory, "Tribeca", This Boy's Life, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, Casino, Heat, The Fan, Sleepers, Wag The Dog, Jackie Brown]
Vickie La Motta ... Cathy Moriarty [Kindergarten Cop, Soapdish, Forget Paris]
Joey La Motta ... Joe Pesci [Once Upon A Time In America, Lethal Weapon 2, GoodFellas, Betsy's Wedding, Home Alone, JFK, Lethal Weapon 3, My Cousin Vinny, Home Alone 2: Lost In New York, A Bronx Tale, With Honors, Casino]
Salvy ... Frank Vincent [The Pope Of Greenwich Village, Do The Right Thing, Last Exit To Brooklyn, GoodFellas, Jungle Fever, Mortal Thoughts, Casino, She's The One]
Tommy Como ... Nicholas Colasanto ["Cheers" (Crowd: Let's burn him in effigy! Coach: To hell with that, let's burn him right here in Boston!)]
Lenore ... Theresa Saldana
Mario ... Mario Gallo
Patsy ... Frank Adonis [Wall Street, King Of New York, GoodFellas, Bad Lieutenant, True Romance, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Casino, The Juror]
Barbizon Stagehand ... Martin Scorsese
Man At Table ... John Turturro [The Flamingo Kid, To Live And Die In L.A., The Color Of Money, Hannah And Her Sisters, Do The Right Thing, State Of Grace, Miller's Crossing, Mo' Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Barton Fink, Fearless, Quiz Show, "Baseball", Girl 6]
Cinematography by Michael Chapman [The Godfather, Jaws, Taxi Driver, All The Right Moves, The Lost Boys, Ghostbusters II, Quick Change, Kindergarten Cop, Doc Hollywood, Whispers In The Dark, Visions Of Light: The Art Of Cinematography, Rising Sun, The Fugitive, Primal Fear]
Edited by Thelma Schoonmaker [Woodstock, After Hours, The Color Of Money, The Last Temptation Of Christ, New York Stories, GoodFellas, Cape Fear (91), The Age Of Innocence, Casino, Kundun]
Written by Paul Schrader [Taxi Driver, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, The Mosquito Coast, The Last Temptation Of Christ, The Comfort Of Strangers, Light Sleeper, City Hall] and Markik Martin [Mean Streets]
Directed by Martin Scorsese [Woodstock, Elvis On Tour, Mean Streets, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Cannonball, Taxi Driver, After Hours, The Color Of Money, 'Round Midnight, The Last Temptation Of Christ, New York Stories, The Grifters, Akira Kurasawa's Dreams, GoodFellas, Cape Fear, Guilty By Suspicion, Mad Dog And Glory, The Age Of Innocence, Quiz Show, Casino, Kundun]
Black & White
This Was Written January 22, 1998
~~Best Picture Of 1980 -- Academy Award Nomination, Los Angeles Film Critics
~~Best Director Of 1980 For Martin Scorsese -- Academy Award Nomination, National Society Of Film Critics
~~Best Actor Of 1980 For Robert De Niro -- Academy Award Winner, New York Film Critics, Los Angeles Film Critics
~~Best Supporting Actor Of 1980 For Joe Pesci -- Academy Award Nomination, New York Film Critics, National Society Of Film Critics
~~Best Supporting Actress Of 1980 For Cathy Moriarty -- Academy Award Nomination
~~Best Cinematography Of 1980 For Michael Chapman -- Academy Award Nomination, National Society Of Film Critics
~~Best Editing Of 1980 For Thelma Schoonmaker -- Academy Award Winner
~~National Film Registry 1990
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