Raging Bull: A Knock-Out Classic

Martin Scorsese’s 1980 masterpiece Raging Bull is a biographical drama starring Robert De Niro which tells the story of boxer Jake LaMotta. Filmed in black and white it’s still arguably the best film ever directed by Scorsese.

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RAGING BULL, Joe Pesci, Robert De Niro, 1980. (c) United Artists/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.

LaMotta was alternatively known as ‘The Raging Bull’ due to his rough-edged, brawling style in the ring. At one point World Middleweight Champion, LaMotta’s crude bullying tactics meant he often took as much punishment as he dished out. Raging Bull is based on the boxer’s memoirs and see’s Joe Pesci co-star alongside Robert De Niro as Jake’s brother, with De Niro taking on the lead role.

For De Niro it was a role of extremes- sparring hundreds of rounds and training with LaMotta himself the actor fought three boxing matches in Brooklyn and won two of them. LaMotta said De Niro was not only of professional standard, but one of the best middleweights he’d ever seen. In stark contrast, to prepare for his role in latter scenes of the film, where an ageing LaMotta is massively overweight, De Niro lived in Paris for months attending the finest restaurants before going on a culinary tour of France and Italy where he binged on food and beer, gaining 60lb in four months.

For more great Raging Bull insights take a look at this Shortlist article: ’30 Knockout Raging Bull Facts’

The obsessive method acting paid off and Robert De Niro shines in one of his finest performances. It was a big ask to get under the skin of a man with so many inner demons but the performance perfectly frames LaMotta’s turbulent and at times animalistic personality which led to drama both inside and outside the ring.

Raging Bull is no simple sports film, of course boxing is a focal point but Scorsese’s seventh film explores the turbulence of Jake LaMotta’s character in depth and it’s plot is far from predictable. The film examines his marital strife, violent character and the ups-and-downs and ultimate significance of his relationship with his brother, who is brilliantly portrayed by Pesci, (notably in his first major role). All of this is helped along with an immensely memorable soundtrack as LaMotta’s true story is brought to life expertly.

Raging Bull is a story of grey areas, bloodied noses, decline and domestic violence.

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Raging Bull is the story of a champion, but it’s delivered without the life affirming message of growth and achievement, without the moral messages and without the happy ending. Raging Bull is a story of grey areas, bloodied noses, decline and domestic violence. It’s bittersweet, (and mainly bitter).

By George Storr

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