The Film That Got Away: Raging Bull


By Christian DiMartino

Title: Raging Bull

Genre: Drama, Sports

Release Date: Dec. 19, 1980

Film Rating: R

Leads: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty

Writer(s): Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin (Based on the novel by Jake La Motta)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Ranking the films of Martin Scorsese is an extremely difficult thing to do, considering just how many great movies he has made throughout his career. This is the man who brought us Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Wolf of Wall Street, Taxi Driver (a film I have reviewed in the past), and many more. My personal favorite is The Departed, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 2006 (and, after an extremely long wait, scored Scorsese his first Oscar win). His second best movie, without question, is Raging Bull.

Raging Bull tells the true story of a heavyweight boxer named Jake La Motta (played to absolutely terrifying perfection by Robert De Niro). La Motta, judging from other boxing movies, is nothing like Rocky Balboa or James “Cinderella Man” Braddock. While those two were loving, caring gentlemen, La Motta is just a monster. He takes his rage from within the ring and releases it into his personal life. The film follows his rise and fall, as his madness and anger drives away the people he loves the most, including his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) and his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty).

Raging Bull is considered a sports movie, but I beg to differ. Rather, it is more of a character study of a sociopath, and a great one at that. This film marked the fourth time that Scorsese and De Niro teamed up, and this is easily their best collaboration. Raging Bull is powerful stuff.

It is a fascinating, and in its own way, terrifying film. The film does not really have a character to root for, but that is sort of Scorsese’s gift: he knows how to make these terrible, crazy people watchable. It has worked for him on numerous occasions (The Wolf of Wall Street, The King of Comedy, to name a few).

In the end though, this movie might not have been as special if De Niro was not in it. De Niro, in some ways, is this movie. All of the acting here is great, but De Niro stands out from the rest. There is one scene in particular, in which Jake accuses Joey of sleeping with his wife and attacks him. That scene alone shows La Motta for what he really is: a raging bull. De Niro will never do anything like it ever again. It is among the finest performances I have ever seen.

The film won two Oscars, including Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Film Editing. It was also nominated for Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Pesci), and Supporting Actress (Moriarty). It lost Best Picture and Director to Robert Redford’s powerful film Ordinary People. So, now, my real point emerges. Although Ordinary People is a great movie, I guarantee you that if Robert Redford sat down in a room and watched Ordinary People and Raging Bull back to back, he would admit Raging Bull is better, because it is.

It blows my mind that this film, along with Taxi Driver and Goodfellas sent Scorsese home empty handed. All three of these films should have won Best Picture, and it still irritates me. Raging Bull is such a great movie. This movie holds you in its grip and does not let go until the very end. So, due to its Oscar snubs, and the fact that I know nobody who has seen it, this truly is a film that got away.

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