A black and white counter-punch full of painful realism.
Let’s go back in time for a minute as we take a look at the 1976 Academy Awards. Two films are competing, John G. Avildsen’s Rocky and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver. Whilst both were critically-acclaimed movies, Avildsen’s story of an American dream beat Scorsese’s American delusion to a box office pulp, and took home the best picture award as well. Call it destiny: four years later, Scorsese–who didn’t particularly enjoy boxing himself–released Raging Bull, the tale of Jake LaMotta, one of boxing’s hardest chins.
Allegedly, Raging Bull is the reason Martin Scorsese is still alive today. Crippled by drugs and broken dreams, Scorsese was convinced by Robert De Niro to make this film based on Jake LaMotta’s story. It led Martin back on track; he put his life back together, and went on to direct numerous films in what we can now call a brilliant and prolific career.
Biopics will regularly embellish their main subject; Raging Bull does not. It depicts LaMotta as a violent man, both inside and out of the ring. He’s verbally abusive most of the time, and even goes so far as to physically harm people who are dear to him. And this makes me want to go back to Rocky again.
Sylvester Stallone’s breakthrough film is great, there’s no way to deny it. In contract with Rocky, which only shows us the nice side of the man, Raging Bull starts off right when the main character is giving up the thug life. In Rocky, before becoming Apollo Creed’s challenger, Rocky Balboa worked for a shady guy called Anthony Gazzo. You never see it, but it is implied Rocky had a habit of hurting people who refused to pay Gazzo’s loans. Now imagine if the film started a year earlier when Rocky used to punch and scare poor, innocent people for a few dollars. Wouldn’t it change your view of this gentle giant?
Well, Scorsese didn’t care about your feelings. He wanted to show the real thing. It feels like a straight punch in the face; and for some reason, it feels really good.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Inspiring” title=”The power of slow motion.”/]
Slow motion always manages to give grace to whatever’s on the screen. Here we are shown Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) shadowboxing. Who is he? What did he do? Unless you are a boxing fan, you have no idea yet, but the slow motion and Pietro Mascagni’s Intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana automatically establishes him as a legend.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Quotable” title=”‘Don’t overcook it. You overcook it, it’s no good. It defeats its own purpose!'”/]
LaMotta’s famous “steak scene” sets the tone perfectly. The man is far from your conventional nice guy. By exposing his unpleasant personality right at the beginning, Scorsese makes it clear that LaMotta isn’t a role model. Just like the coloration of the movie, life is not black nor white; it’s gray. One thing’s for certain, I’m not sure someone could enjoy cooking a steak for Jake!
[do action=”moment” emo=”Romantic” title=”Jake and Vickie.”/]
I like Jake’s conquest of Vickie. There are similarities between the way he seduces her and how he fights. He isn’t afraid of the pain that could result from a head-on confrontation.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Intense” title=”The fights.”/]
The way Scorsese handles the fight scenes is worthy of our attention. Although they might be unrealistic when compared to real bouts, they are dramatic, frenetic, and captivating. What helps filmmakers with sports films is the freedom to get right next to the athletes, and shoot their scene as close as they want.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Creative” title=”Good memories.”/]
So, there is color in this film after all! But it’s used in a cunning manner. They express the glory days in the life of LaMotta, when met success at home and in the ring.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Sad” title=”Self-destruction in progress.”/]
Jake was never satisfied. Despite all the fame and glory, his bad side takes over. I guess Jake lacked confidence, which led him to be overly possessive and violent.
[do action=”moment” emo=”HolyShit” title=”Joe Pesci becomes Joe Pesci.”/]
Joey (Pesci) beats the Italian out of Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent). One could expect Joey to get in a scuffle, but I bet you didn’t expect him to try to break Salvy in two with a car door. This is one of the famous ‘Pesci goes furious” scenes which became some sort of a trademark for him over time.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Heartbreaking” title=”Jake and the mafia.”/]
In order to get access to the championship, Jake has to take a dive. The subsequent scenes involve him crying like a baby after the battle. This man had a gigantic ego. I can barely imagine how hard it must have been for him to submit to someone else.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Sad” title=”Old and fat.”/]
We jump forward in time and see a post-boxing Jake LaMotta. The man is so fat, he looks like he’s in real pain. His wife is gone and so is his brother. The man’s a mess, really.
[do action=”moment” emo=”Sad” title=”Reuniting with Joey.”/]
Jake finds Joey and forces an awkward reconciliation. We can see how desperate Jake is. Is he finally realizing all the pain he has caused to the people close to him? I can only hope so.
With this film, Scorcese hired relative unknowns such as Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarthy, and created an amazing flick focusing on dialogues and fight scenes over boxing achievements. This makes for a deeper, more profound tale. Shooting this film in black and white was also a great idea, transporting you back to the 1950s. Some call the result Scorsese's best.