It’s astounding that after 33 years since its release, Raging Bull remains one of the most endearing and challenging movie watching experiences. Robert De Niro’s performance is the definition of metamorphosis, and thank God Martin Scorsese was up to the task of elevating himself to equally delirious heights.
Robert De Niro uses the raw, intense, could-blow-at-any-minute mannerisms of boxer Jake La Motta to explore the mind of self-destructive man. To do so he gained so much weight it appears he injected nacho cheese directly in his veins. This anti-glamour transformation occurs over time as he becomes larger, but as a result his star dwindles and he slowly loses the battle with his inner self. At his most bloated, mentally and physically, his entire world implodes in depressing but riveting fashion. Flat-out among the best performances by any actor at any time in any medium.
Scorsese’s atmospheric shooting style of the boxing sequences—which will forever be taught in film schools until the world collapses—are not only unparalleled as surface entertainment, but emblematic of La Motta himself. His brazenness, energy and tendency to lose himself in the heat of the moment all come through as he barrels towards an opponent. Even his arrogance shines when he lays against the ropes being pummeled by Sugar Ray Robinson followed by the line “You didn’t knock me down, Ray. You didn’t know me down.” No other time since Taxi Driver, or ever after Bull, has a movie felt so epic using a singular character. Kind of gives ya goosebumps.
No matter how good they may be, other boxing movies are video games compared to Raging Bull, their simplicity abundantly obvious. Just like in Taxi Driver, Scorsese and De Niro have crafted one of the most intriguing characters studies of all time, the greatest sports movie ever and one of the most staggering masterpieces of the silver screen