"The thing ain't the ring, it's the play. So give me a... stage where this bull here can rage and though I could fight I'd much rather recite... that's entertainment."
In 1976 Martin Scorsese teamed up with Robert De Niro and screenwriter Paul Schrader to deliver what in my opinion is one of his best films: Taxi Driver. That year that complex character study lost out on the Oscar to Stallone's Rocky. So what does Scorsese do next? He directs a real boxing movie with another memorable and complex character played by Robert De Niro making Rocky look like a cartoon character. Don't get me wrong, I loved Rocky, but Jake La Motta is a character that feels much more authentic. He's deeply flawed and unpleasant to be around with, but his violent temper is what made him such a successful boxer on the ring. It was actually Robert De Niro who approached Scorsese to make this film based on Jake La Motta's autobiographical book and despite hesitating to make a sports movie at first, he ended up directing what is considered by many to be the best boxing film of all time. The boxing scenes are violent and bloody, but what was most surprising for me was the way in which De Niro captured the rage and paranoia of his character off the ring. La Motta isn't a very sympathetic character and his anger and jealous outbursts led him to his ultimate downfall, but somehow there is still something redeeming about him and De Niro captured that essence perfectly in this Award winning performance. It's much more a character study than a boxing film, but Scorsese also explores Jake La Motta's bond with his brother Joey turning this into a sibling relationship study as well. Jake tries to channel his rage through boxing, but ultimately it defeats him outside of the ring destroying the relationships he has formed. Near the end there is a nice nod to Brando's On the Waterfront, which was a perfect touch by Scorsese who seems to always be in control of his craft and at the same time honoring other famous films. Raging Bull is an artistic film dealing with a difficult subject matter but it still is considered by many as the best film from the 80's. It's a near masterpiece in my opinion with another outstanding lead performance by De Niro, who was without a doubt the best actor at that time.
Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) is the raging bull who during the 40's dominated every rival inside the ring. No one could take hits like he did and despite losing a couple fights he took pride in the fact that he never went down. Jake's brother, Joey (Joe Pesci) is his sparring partner and at the same time he manages his fights so they have a very close relationship. Joey has a few connections with the mob, but Jake refuses to deal with them and wants to get a chance at the title on his own. Joey also introduces him to a fifteen year old girl named Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), whom he later marries. As the years go by, Jake defeats his opponents but the title shot keeps eluding him since he refuses to work with the mob despite Joey's connection with Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent). While Jake's professional boxing career begins to take off, his personal life takes a blow when he allows his jealousy and paranoia to take over as he fears his wife is seeing other men. Despite channeling his rage in the ring, he also takes it out in his home on his wife and brother. What at first served as his inspiration for becoming a boxing champion escalated so much that it also became his downfall and ruin. Raging Bull centers on Jake's self destructive boxing journey and it is a very complex and emotional one. In the midst of it all there is still a redemptive quality to this antihero and he accepts his punishment through personal beatings in the ring.
I don't know if Scorsese would be around making movies today if it weren't for Raging Bull. Just like his lead character Jake, Scorsese was dealing with some personal demons of his own struggling with drug addiction. De Niro convinced him to make this film and somehow he channeled his addictions through his direction. Jake unsuccessfully channeled his rage in the ring, but Marty found redemption for both of them thanks to Raging Bull. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous and the performances were powerful. De Niro gives another physically demanding performance after his work in Taxi Driver and he once again is very impressive. Joe Pesci is also wonderful as he will later become a recurring actor in other Scorsese films. The chemistry between both actors in this film is really strong and they shine together on screen. The boxing scenes were really raw and violent. They are hard to watch at times, and an extreme close up of dripping blood from the rope in the ring really captured the violence that Scorsese was trying to transmit. Raging Bull is a fascinating film which explores the mind of a very emotionally disturbed man who we wouldn't want to be around with, but somehow Scorsese draws us into his mind and he absorbs us.