Saturday, December 5, 2015
(November 1980, U.S.)
The long time collaboration between director Martin Scorsese and actor Robert DeNiro may never have been better than with RAGING BULL. I specifically use the word "may" because, honestly, it's a very close toss-up, in my opinion, between this film and TAXI DRIVER (1976). For this film, the potential superiority immediately begins with the fact that RAGING BULL is brilliantly shot in black and white to tell the true life drama of middleweight boxing champion Jake LaMotta (DeNiro), whose self-destructive personality, obsessive rage, sexual jealousy, and animalistic appetite ultimatley destroyed his relationship with his wife and family. The black and white may be easily attributed to the fact that much of the story takes place during the 1940s and such film making pays appropriate homage, but it's truly more than than. There is something in the black and white that truly brings out the violence and rage that lives within the protagonist of the film. Even the graphic images of blood during many of Jake's fight take on a unique meaning in the way it's conveyed on the screen (take not of a close up shot of blood dripping from the rope of the boxing ring). This was also an era when boxing was considered a very dark blot in the world of sports, hence the black and white photography's additional effectiveness.
The film is primarily told as a flashback because we're first introduced to Jake LaMotta as an aging, overweight would-be stand-up comic in the year 1964...
Immediately, we get the sense of a man who may have once held the world in his hands and then lost it, left now only to pick up the small remnants of what remains of his lonely life. When the film then jumps to one of Jake's bloody fights, we learn who the real Jake LaMotta is, which is not very good...
(by the way, like THE UNTOUCHABLES in 1987, this was one of those films where DeNiro gained and lost weight specifically for the role!)
Jake lives in a working class section of the Bronx, is married to a woman he despises (and who despises him, in return) for reasons as small as overcooking his steak, apparently goes for underage girl (his future wife is only fifteen years-old when he meets her) and is forced to deal with the Mafia corruption that resides behind his world of boxing (I suppose one could say that Rocky Balboa, he is NOT!). As Jake slowly rises to the top of his boxing division, his personal struggles with jealousy and paranoia get progressively worse. Jake loves his wife Vicki (played by Cathy Moriarty), but is constantly looking over his shoulder at her, believing that she's fucking around behind his back - not just with many of the local mob big shots, but even with his own brother Joey (played by Joe Pesci in their first film pairing together in Scorsese films). In what has likely become an infamous scene in itself, Jake bluntly asks his brother, "Did you fuck my wife?" Watching and listening to this, we are likely to feel shock as well as a degree of comedy in such a question put to one's own brother. On the other, one brother backstabbing another is a tale as old as time itself.
There is a true genuineness in RAGING BULL, not only in the true telling of a man's life of turmoil, but also in the realistic brutality of boxing. It's important to note that Robert DeNiro learned his own boxing technique for the film, achieving a realism that goes beyond anything Sylvester Stallone ever did in the ring. But beyond the physical characteristics brought to the film, DeNiro possesses a dramatic anger and explosive rage of his own that brings a man like Jake LaMotta to perfect form. His performance, as well as his costars, are vigorously ambitious in their own right. Each one manages to feed off the other with just the right chemistry in a world where they must all co-exist under the instability and insanity of not only the hard profession of boxing, but the prices they must all pay for not only Jake's success, but his ultimate personal failures, as well. It's one of the finest film's of Scorsese's long career and rightfully holds a valid place in cinema as an American classic! Even the sound of RAGING BULL is unique in that we are often drawn into the effects of every hard punch, every camera flash bulb and even the rage that exists within the spectators of this brutal, animalistic sport.
Robert DeNiro won the Oscar for Best Actor of 1980 and he totally deserved it, but it was not enough, in my opinion. As much as I love and respect Robert Redford's directorial debut of ORDINARY PEOPLE, it's RAGING BULL that should have won the Oscar for Best Picture of that year. It was the best film of 1980 (a year I can't help but only associate with THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, AIRPLANE! and THE BLUES BROTHERS - must be a childhood thing!), as well as one of my top ten favorite films of that entire decade (that's entertainment!).
Favorite line or dialogue:
Jake La Motta: "Did you fuck my wife?"
Joey LaMotta: "What?"
Jake: "Did you fuck my wife?"
Joey: "How do you ask me that? I'm your brother and you ask me that? Where do you get you're balls big enough to ask me that?"
Jake: "You're very smart, Joey. You're giving me a lot of answers, but you ain't giving me the right answer. I'm gonna ask you again: did you or did you not?"
Joey: "I'm not gonna answer that. It's stupid. It's a sick question and you're a sick fuck and I'm not that sick that I'm gonna answer it. I'm leaving. If Nora calls tell her I went home. I'm not staying in this nuthouse with you. You're a sick bastard, I feel sorry for you, I really do. You know what you should do? Try a little more fucking and a little less eating, so you won't have problems upstairs in the bedroom and you pick on me and everybody else! You understand me, you fucking wacko? You're cracking up! Fucking screw ball ya!"