Recognized as one of the best films of the 1980s, one of the best films about boxing, and maybe the best film of Martin Scorsese’s career, Raging Bull is a film that he almost didn’t make. Robert De Niro, who portrays 1940’s middleweight champ Jake LaMotta, saw drama in the boxer’s shaky rise and inevitable downfall. He pushed the sports-hating Scorsese to make the film.
Hinged upon a series of fights that lead to LaMotta’s shot at the title, Raging Bull doesn’t pull its punches when showing the brutality of boxing, or the insecurity-fueled rage that permeates LaMotta’s relationships with his wife (Cathy Moriarty) and brother (Joe Pesci). Filmed inside the ring and in black-and-white, the fight scenes are all the more vicious because of the absence of color. Similarly, De Niro’s performance is taut and lean. He is a predator who can convey fury or instill fear with a glance as easily as with his fists.
Largely unknown at the time, Moriarty and Pesci could have withered under De Niro’s forceful performance. Both stay on their feet and create powerful moments as their characters navigate tenuous relationships with the Raging Bull. Thankfully, Scorsese came around to De Niro’s prodding. As a result, the director gave audiences a story that focused less on the mob than his earlier films, and allowed him to shed light on Italian-Americans’ fight for family and survival in mid 20th-century New York.
This film is rated R for pervasive language and some strong violence.