I always remember my favorite college professor writing the words, “Good stuff, for what it is” on the top of a story I had labored over for most of the quarter. It seemed like a nice way of saying that what I had written was probably fine, for somebody somewhere, but it was decidedly not his cup of tea. That’s how I feel about Raging Bull: it’s good stuff, for what it is, but it will never take up residence in my heart.
Scorsese’s classic 1980 film depicts the life of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) and the violence that defined his life. From his volatile dealings with his wife and neighbors to his powerful performances in the ring, we see the complexities that made LaMotta a formidable competitor and a sometimes terrifying man. We also glimpse a softer (though morally ambiguous) side of LaMotta as he seduces his soon-to-be teenage bride, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), who looks to be fifteen going on forty-five. Unfortunately this also includes watching Robert DeNiro kiss, a cringe-inducing task which never gets any easier.
The film’s black and white photography is well suited to the era, as Raging Bull chronicles LaMotta’s rise to fame and personal success during the 1940’s and his subsequent fall during the 1950s. In keeping with all the great tragedies, Jake LaMotta’s life is determined by a character flaw: his tendency toward violence and excess. Like Taxi Driver (also written by Paul Schrader and directed by Martin Scorsese), the film is essentially a character study, again brilliantly executed by DeNiro.
Though it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, Raging Bull is undeniably well-executed. It serves as a significant piece of film history teaming many of the great talents of their generation. Regardless of whether you fall in love with it or not, it’s a worthy component to any film education.
DVD & BLU-RAY NOTES
The two-disc Blu-Ray edition comes with three audio commentary tracks (with Martin Scorsese and the cast and crew), four new featurettes, Cathy Moriarty’s 1981 Tonight Show appearance, the feature-length documentary Raging Bull: Fight Night, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a shot-by-shot comparison of DeNiro and LaMotta in the ring, and vintage newsreel footage of Jake LaMotta himself. Disc 2 is the standard DVD edition of the film.