Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull

  • Some, including Roger Ebert, have called this one of the finest movies ever made. Others, like The Guardian, say it is Director Martin Scorcese’s most perfect film.
  • Do I agree? Not quite.
  • Artistically, Raging Bull is masterful.
  • Some of the boxing sequences are so well choreographed that they’re almost like watching dancing; others are so brutal as to make us feel Jake LaMotta’s (Robert De Niro) rage.
  • Furthermore, very few movies use point of view shots as well as Raging Bull.
  • Indeed, every filmmaking element works to immerse us in Jake’s worldview, to make us understand him better than he understands himself.
  • The performances help as well. De Niro won an Oscar for Raging Bull, and he deserved it. Forget the physical transformation. Consider instead all of his first-rate acting.
  • Plus, Joe Pesci is scene-stealing as Joey, and Moriarty is equally great.
  • For all of that, Raging Bull is imperfect. First, it frequently leaps forward in time so awkwardly that events are hard to track, as when LaMotta is banned from boxing. Yes, such temporal leaps help communicate LaMotta’s psyche, but they are still overdone.
  • More importantly, female characters are undefined, even Vicki. I know Raging Bull is about men who do not understand women, which gives the filmmakers reason to under-develop feminine characters, but Scorcese and his writers go too far. It is fine that Jake has no concept of Vicki’s personality, but it is not fine that the we don’t either. Why does she agree to sleep with a married man? Why does she marry him? Why does she forgive him when he beats her? Why does she finally, after so much abuse, divorce him? We don’t know, because Scorcese doesn’t show us.
  • Likewise, LaMotta’s first wife disappears from the picture, without explanation or conflict. This too is a flaw.
  • In the end, there is a lot to like about Raging Bull, much more than there is to dislike. But one of the best movies ever? Even Scorcese’s finest?  No.
  • Final Grade: B
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39 thoughts on “Raging Bull (1980)

  1. Interesting point about the underdeveloped female characters – it is something that Scorsese has been criticised about again recently with The Wolf Of Wall St in cinemas. It’s a long time since I watched Raging Bull, and despite its qualities I rarely feel in the mood for it.

    • I doubt I ever watch it again.

      And I was one of the people who criticized underdeveloped women in Wolf, actually. I think it less problematic in that one, though, mostly because Margot Robbie’s character has some definition, albeit the unflattering kind.

  2. I never understood why Vicki took him back after he beat her. The whole having sex with him while he was married made sense, because affairs do happen. I like the look of the movie and the acting but yeah its not the greatest boxing movie.

    • I might call it one of the greatest BOXING movies, actually. It’s up there with Rocky and . . . well . . . what? But one of the greatest MOVIES ever, the way so many have lauded it? No. It isn’t even the best film of 1980, much less the decade.

      As to the affair . . . it makes sense from La Motta’s perspective, but I’d contend we do not understand Vicki’s motivation. We don’t know what she sees in the man, much less what trait causes such promiscuity in a time and culture wherein female wantonness killed social status and ruined marital/financial prospects. This is especially striking when considering Joey’s insistence that Vicki once refused all of his overtures.

  3. Masterfully made for sure and the performances are sublime. I’m can’t quite go with the grade B, though. This is one of my favourite films and definitely Scorsese’s finest in my eyes. DeNiro also gives one of cinemas finest and most committed shows. I love it.

    • Our reactions to Raging Bull are definitely a bit different, then. I like it, but I certainly don’t love it, and, in my opinion, it isn’t anywhere near Scorcese’s finest. I’d say Taxi Driver is a touch better. Goodfellas and Casino are superior. Probably Wolf of Wall Street and The Departed, as well. Maybe even Bringing Out the Dead. Of those I’ve seen, the only ones I know I like less are The Aviator and Shutter Island.

      I do agree on De Niro as Jake La Motta, though. I think he’s even better as Travis Bickle, but there’s no way to criticize him here. Honestly, he should have two Oscars, one for each movie.

      • So many Scorsese flicks to choose from and so many DeNiro performances. I still think it’s criminal that throughout his résumé, he’s only been awarded the Oscar twice. He could have won it at least another three or four times comfortably. I thought Awakenings, Cape Fear, The Deer Hunter and The King of comedy were also Oscar worthy.

  4. great review Jjames.

    I totally agree with you here on the fact that this is a good movie, but not the best ever.

    I haven’t seen it in years and it’s on my list of movies to re-watch soon, but I can’t say I’m really looking forward to those 2 hours

  5. I agree with you on these two, I would also like to add Godfather to three films I like but don’t love, I would watch Rocky any day over Raging Bull, Collateral over Taxi Driver and Goodfellas over The Godfather, I don’t deny the classics have style and broke new ground, but they also fall into the boring side of art, where as with the Rocky, Goodfellas and Collateral, they all have something within them that make you smile and in turn you never get tired of seeing them.

    • I don’t love The Godfather either. I like and appreciate it, but I also think it flawed.

      I wouldn’t go so far as to call Raging Bull, Taxi Driver or Godfather boring, though. They are slowly paced, no doubt, but the pacing doesn’t bother me in any of the three.

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  7. Some of the those problems seem quite severe. Glaring plot holes severe. I still have yet to watch this, which is kind of embarrassing to admit. Not in any sort of rush though, mostly after reading this.

    • Not developing a single feminine character is significant, I think. But the movie mostly overcomes it through powerhouse performances, strong development of male characters and some spectacularly artistic direction. Seriously, the way this one uses point of view shots is possibly worth viewing on its own. Scorcese uses them to make see the world and feel emotions the way La Motta does.

      All of which is to say . . . Raging Bull is good. I doubt I see it a second time, though.

      • That is fair, but I do agree that the flaws sound like they held something down that otherwise could have been perfect. I was planning to watch this recently, but then watched Grudge match. I know they are incredibly different, but an other boxing movie so soon after that junk? Just could not do it.

        Those highlights you pointed out are catching my interest though.

  8. Great movie and again I haven’t seen it in ages, I can give it all the acclaim it deserves, but it is not one I want to watch over and over again. Goodfellas, omg I can watch that all day on a loop, same for Casino. Shutter Island I hated! I just didn’t like it as much as other people did. Aviator was fun to watch, but nothing great. Anyways I am totally rambling, good review, I like reading these yester year reviews!!!

    • Thank you!

      I totally agree on Shutter Island and Aviator. I think the first borderline bad and the second just … Okay.

      Raging Bull is good, but not something I’m interested in seeing again.

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