It’s been a while since I looked at the Scorsese/De Niro partnership; the last feature of theirs I watched was 1976’s Taxi Driver. Raging Bull is said to be one of the best films of all time, but I couldn’t help feeling it came a bit short.
The film is a biopic of the life of 40s boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro); to me, it is about how his destructive personality led to his very ruin. Despite becoming a famous sports champion, he had anger management problems, and wasn’t good at discussing his issues with other people. On top of this, he was constantly jealous of his much younger wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), even to the point where he’d chastise her for saying hello to another man. When she eventually sleeps with his younger brother Joey, played by Joe Pesci of Lethal Weapon fame, he loses it and beats up both Vickie and Joey before taking his wife back. The film appropriately ends with Jake in 1964 being a fraction of a man he was at the beginning of the 40s.
In my opinion, the film wasn’t really that clever, and was ultimately rather predictable. I don’t think that the film really gives any insights into the human psyche and simply explains that acting in such a manner will only be detrimental to yourself and others around you. I would have much preferred a film which explains why he became so angry and jealous in the first place, or what made him choose boxing. Perhaps then I would have at least had some shred of empathy for Jake rather than just wishing he’d go to hell for being such a bastard. Furthermore, the film is principally recorded in black and white, which, by 1980, was more of an artistic choice than a financial necessity. I simply don’t see at all why black and white is necessary in this film; just because it’s set in the 40s and 50s doesn’t mean it has to be shot in black and white. Unless I can discern a reason for the artistic choices people make, it just seems pretentious.
I wasn’t drawn in by Raging Bull; the reasons Roger Ebert give for liking it simply aren’t enough for me. Scorsese doesn’t do much more than tell the story of Jake LaMotta, who is incredibly still alive today at 91; Joey is 88. I feel like critics may have had stars in their eyes, quite literally, as they watched the very capable acting of Robert De Niro, but this did not distract me from the very thin message that the film was trying to deliver. Not one I’d want to see again.