1 Year, 100 Movies: #4 Raging Bull (1980)

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For 1 Year, 100 Movies, I will watch all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year- and will complete a goal on my 2013 Manifesto. Come along on the ride with me- oh, and please pass the popcorn!

“Raging Bull” is a film about a self-destructive boxer, his opponent is less the men in the ring, and more the shadows in his head. Our boxer is Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) – a real person whose story was championed into becoming a film by De Niro himself. The film begins with Jake’s  marriage to Irma (Lori Anne Flax) falling apart, partially due to Jake’s obsession with the young local girl Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), whom he ends up marrying. Jake and Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes) have numerous bouts in the ring. Jake is a good boxer, but can only make it so far on his own with boxing being what it was in the 1940’s. To a certain extent the mob kept the best bouts for those boxers who were complicit. Because of the circumstances, Joey had to deal with the local boss, Tommy Como (Nicholas Colasanto) to get a title shot.

Jake has earned the title, but not on his own terms, and he begins to loose his focus and direction. He understands only violence, and without his drive to remain competitive he lashes out at his wife Vickie and his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) verbally and physically. During this loss of direction, he gains weight (De Niro famously put on 60 pounds to play the aging La Motta). After Robinson gets out of the military, he wants to fight Jake again. Jake is out of shape and unprepared, and although he doesn’t go down, is utterly beaten, his title taken, and  his career ended.

Jake’s boxing days are through, and after he looses himself his wife Vickie leaves him too, taking their three children with her. His drive to succeed is gone and is replaced with his need to fulfill himself and so he spends all of his money and sleeps around. His exploits go too far when he is caught for getting involved with an under aged girl at his own club. In jail, he finally has a moment of clarity, but once again casts the blame away from himself. The film ends with a overweight has-been La Motta reciting Marlon Brando’s speech from “On the Waterfront” to himself in a mirror. This a wonderfully delicious and ironic moment. Terry Malloy (Brando) in “On the Waterfront” never got his shot, but Jake had won it all, and lost everything because of himself. Not even his brother Joey sticks with him.

In researching this film online I found a wonderful quote from someone about this film that I feel sums it up perfectly- “Raging Bull is one of the most beautiful films about ugly people you’ll ever see. Its stark emotional landscape gives it the air of honesty and the appeal of a cautionary tale.” The entire film is shot in beautiful black and white, with the exception of the grainy, textured 8mm home movies of Jake, Vicki, and Jake’s younger brother Joey- it accentuates what was documented and what was remembered. The gorgeous black and white feels almost dream-like, softening some moments and accentuating others. It truly is a beautiful cautionary tale.

In my humble, non-professional, average movie-goer opinion this movie earns:

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