Classic Movie Review: Raging Bull (1980)

Title: Raging Bull
Release Date: December 19, 1980
Director: Martin Scorsese
Production Company: Chartoff-Winkler Productions

Growing up, Raging Bull was the other Italian-American boxer movie, the one in black & white that wasn’t Rocky. I never had much desire to see Raging Bull until I saw it was #4 on the AFI List and #55 on the Sights and Sounds list.  The movie is based on the true-life story of midweight boxer Jake LaMotta who was active in the 1940s and 1950s. Robert De Niro, almost unrecognizable beneath the prosthetics, stars as LaMotta, while Joe Pesci stars as Joey, his younger brother and manager.  Cathy Moriarity makes a stunning debut as Vickie, Jake’s second wife.

The movie is basically 2 hours of concentrated toxic masculinity, and that doesn’t include the 10 minutes of scenes within the boxing ring.  Jake and Joey spend a lot of time hurling profanities at one another.  Then the already-married Jake creepily stalks down the 15-year-old Vickie, eventually marrying her.  (The early scenes where Jake, Joey, and Vickie are supposed to be 19, 16, and 15 are hard to swallow since the actors look far too adult, but they do age well into their roles).  The heart of the story then becomes LaMotta’s jealousy of Vickie, and his brutal abuse of her, on the unjustified belief that she is cheating on him.  Eventually he even turns against Joey in a scene that – a surprise to me – is the source of the oft-quoted line “You fuck my wife?!”

I guess I’m going on record as a Scorsese naysayer.  I can’t fault Raging Bull for it’s acting, cinematography, editing, and sound design, all of which are top notch.  The behavior of Lamotta and others are certainly true to life. But like Taxi Driver, I have no desire to watch stories about nonstop abuse, cruelty, violence, and unredeemable inhuman behavior.  I wouldn’t recommend watching Raging Bull without a good sense of what you’re getting into, and I certainty won’t watch it again.

Rating: ***