A film directed by Martin Scorsese (The Irishman, Goodfellas) combined with macho behaviour, pugilism and misogyny makes Raging Bull simultaneously poetic, brutal – and difficult to watch.
Based on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, briefly world middle-weight champion of the world (1949-51), Raging Bull explores violence both inside and outside the ring. More street thug than sportsman, LaMotta was a natural in the ring, using cunning and unrelenting violence to rise to the top. But, macho, jealous and a womaniser, he destroyed his personal life, alienating his brother (Joe Pesci – The Irishman, Goodfellas) and long-suffering wife (Cathy Moriarty – Patti Cake$, Analyze That).
As LaMotta, Robert De Niro (The Irishman, Goodfellas), from fit and trim to an overweight slob, is a sensation with his gritty arrogance: a powder-keg waiting to explode. But, as with all Scorsese films, there’s depth to the cast, with Pesci in particular a stand out. But what sets Raging Bull apart – particularly from the likes of Rocky and the more recent Creed films – is the visuals of the boxing sequences. Filmed in a heightened contrast black and white, brutally realistic is the only description. Juxtaposed with Mascagni’s bittersweet Cavalleria rusticana: Intermezzo, there are times when Raging Bull is so intense, it’s almost unwatchable.
Nominated for 8 Oscars in 1981 including best film, director, supporting actor, supporting actress, won 2 (best actor – Robert De Niro – and editing – Scorsese regular, Thelma Schoonmaker).