Triumphant. Unforgettable. There are simply no words that can do justice to Martin Scorcese’s masterwork Raging Bull. Filmed in stark black and white, Scorcese’s drama from 1980 provides a searing portrait into the violent world of boxing and the fearsome gladiators who do battle inside the confines of the ring. As the bell is struck, the combatants go to war- arms flail about, punches are landed, noses are broken and blood drips menacingly off of the ropes. The dance that occurs between the two warriors is at once macabre, yet suprisingly poetic. As decidedly unsympathetic as the sport of boxing itself, Raging Bull offers a rapturous character study of Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) the “Bronx Bull” who became the world’s middleweight boxing champion and who was as much a brute outside of the ring as he was inside of it. DeNiro delivers a towering performance as Jake LaMotta, the rough and tumble Bronx boxer who is unable to express himself outside of the ring. Jake’s lack of connection to the world allows him to pour out his feelings against any and all opponents who dare to square off against him. Trying to tame the beast inside of Jake is his manager/brother Joey (Joe Pesci) and his sultry, pin-up girl wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarity). The more these two try to harness Jake’s demons, the harder he rails against them. Overcome by insane jealously and an insatiable appetite for food, Jake enters into a downward spiral that eventually costs him his title, his wife and his brother. The screenplay, by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin (adapted from LaMotta’s autobiography) is powerful and accomplished. It follows the path of LaMotta from a young contender in the early 1940’s to a bloated has-been in the 1960’s. The film is difficult to digest at times, but Scorcese (along with film editor Thelma Schoonmaker and cinematographer Michael Chapman) makes it a film not to be missed.
Raging Bull scored an impressive eight Academy Award nominations including Best Picture and Best Director. It is still unknown as to why Martin Scorcese was denied the Best Director Oscar for his work on this film. Luckily, he would be awarded the prize for the accomplished, but decidedly lesser film The Departed in 2006. The film came away with two Academy Awards- one for Scorcese’s frequent film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker and Robert DeNiro for his unsympathetic take on the iconic LaMotta. This was DeNiro’s 2nd Oscar win, but his first as Best Actor (he previously won for his supporting work in The Godfather Part II in 1974).
Two supporting performances in the film garnered Oscar attention as well. The first was for Joe Pesci and his role as Jake LaMotta’s foul-mouthed brother, Joey. The second was for Cathy Moriarty, nominee, (166), as Vickie LaMotta, the woman who brought out Jake’s passion and monstrous jealousy. Moriarity, with her sole career nomination, lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress to Mary Steenburgen in Melvin & Howard