HBO Throwback Thursday: Raging Bull

Raging Bull tells the true story of Jake La Motta, whose temper and aggression caused him trouble in his personal life but made him a fierce boxer in the ring. Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro as Jake, this film beautifully weaves through both the personal and professional life of the flawed man.

Filmed completely in black and white, this beautiful film really shows the reach and talent of Robert De Niro. He carries the whole film, weaving between impossibly aggressive to suave and charismatic (even if it’s a scummy kind of charisma) to show the instability of the great boxer trying to become a champion and the subsequent fall from grace that comes when you hit the top. Martin Scorsese is clearly a fantastic director, as just the final fight alone against Sugar Ray would prove. It’s graphic and horrific but remarkably cinematic. The second standout star has to be Joe Pesci as his brother/manager Joey. Their onscreen chemistry is engaging and makes their later fallout so heartbreaking.

De Niro is unrecognizable as the older version of La Motta at the end of the film, gaining a record amount of weight to play the role. The acting chops of both Pesci and De Niro are at an all time high in this film as well as the direction of the legendary Scorsese. The choice to film in black and white was credited to trying to distinguish it from Rocky that came out four years prior. However I think it was the right choice regardless, offering a gritty feeling of noir that isn’t usually associated with boxing films. Rocky was cinematic, yes, but it was primarily a boxing film. This film reads more of a character study of a flawed, and often problematic man that happens to take place within the world of boxing. Through years a physical and mental abuse, his wife Vicki (Cathy Moriarty) plays another powerful character that has to hold her own with a neurotic and abusive husband. As Rocky paid homage to the poorer parts of Philadelphia this film also takes an interesting look at the Bronx and the people who made up the borough during the 1940s and 50s.

This film is gritty and rough, but a beautiful story of how far a champion can fall. It is a cautionary tale, exposing the sad truth that even sports legends and stars can be deeply troubled people, veiled by the mask their wear in public. Scorsese proves his legendary directing through some gripping shots, fantastic characters, and a new and creative way to approach the sports film genre. De Niro is a powerhouse and even if no other character lasted the test of time, this performance alone would have cemented him as one of the true acting greats. It is no surprise that he won Best Actor for his portrayal of the troubled sportsman. This movie is a must watch.

Amy Recommendation: 10/10

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