Raging BullAFI Rank: #24
Year Released: 1980
Director: Martin Scorsese
Actors: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci,
Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are absolutely brilliant as a pair of brothers in the streets of New York City who get drawn into the violent world of boxing. This is based on the life of Jake LaMotta, known as "Raging Bull" or "The Bronx Bull". You can hear that gritty upbringing in their accents, see it in the chain-link-fenced public pool, and when you hear that Jake was forced by his father to fight for money as a kid, you know just how rough this life could be.
De Niro channels that inner range and shows it spectacularly. This isn't a quiet Rocky character who mulls over things and wants the wall-flower girl. Jake has had a hard life and he deserves something better. He mistreats his feisty girlfriend until a nubile blonde catches his eye - then it's out with the old, in with the new, and soon enough he's treating his new wife just as poorly. He mistrusts everyone around him, including his brother, who he accuses of being too close with his wife. Apparently in real life it was a best friend who he had that fight with, but it's understandable that they want to compress storylines for the movie's sake.
Yes, the boxing scenes are violent. I don't feel at all that they were gratuitous. Rather, I get a strong sense that the movie is being a "documentary" and showing what it was like. Jake's strength was that he wouldn't go down. He could take the beating and remain on his feet. Pummeling that would have destroyed weaker men could not take him out.
The movie is also straightforward about Jake's flaws. This isn't a Rocky-style "he was a hero" story. It looks straight on at the things Jake did wrong along the way. Yes, Jake threw a fight - he had admitted it. He wasn't good to the people in his life.
While the characters are flawed, I think De Niro and Pesci are both superb at bringing them to life in a realistic way. De Niro's weight gain is fairly impressive, from the beginning to the end of the movie. Apparently he became an awesome boxer as well. That's dedication to one's craft.
As one might expect, the movie is all about Men and the World of Men. Women, if shown, are either being lusted after or beaten up on, and rarely do we even know what their names are. We might have had two named women in the wives of the two brothers, but I don't think they even ever talk with each other. So that's a shame, to not get more of a sense of any sort of a relationship. Unless that really was all those men ever did with women their entire lives.
Still, an interesting insight into the world of Bronx boxing.
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