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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 6.92%
Average: 9.43%
Pretty Bad: 0.63%
Total Crap: 1.26%

4 reviews, 135 user ratings

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Raging Bull
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Scorsese's masterpiece."
5 stars

Martin Scorsese's 'Raging Bull' has a feral, staccato rhythm the pounding beat of impacted frustration exploding outwards. Early on, Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) wipes out an opponent in the ring, bashing him repeatedly, and the editing relishes the carnage. The movie alternates between such brutality not only in the ring and quieter, somehow scarier scenes wherein Jake is always set on simmer, waiting for someone or something to give him an excuse to blow up.

Raging Bull can certainly be taken as the anti-Rocky, in which the bum stays a bum despite winning the belt, and fattens himself into an even worse bum who quotes Marlon Brando's famous "I coulda been a contender" without seeming to comprehend its meaning. Only a great actor can play a bad actor, and De Niro at the end of this sad and devastating portrait recites the lines with the opacity of a man who just doesn't get it, never has and never will. Jake doesn't know himself, other than the parts of himself he hates.

Scorsese and cinematographer Michael Chapman shot Raging Bull as a shining black-and-white dream of a boxing noir, with the Brillo-headed Jake sitting in shabby apartments whose very low-rentness is mocked by the film's visual elegance. Photographically, the style is 1949; verbally it's very '70s, with Jake and his brother Joey (Joe Pesci in a comic performance that saves the movie from getting too dour) sitting around delivering variations of "Fuck you, you mook." Playing perhaps his sanest character, Pesci emerges as the film's heroic voice of reason, even putting across such streetwise koans as "If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win." He also works magic in his scenes with his longtime stage partner Frank Vincent as a low-level mobster who just wants Jake to play the mob's game. There's no threat in Vincent's manner he just wants things to run smooth and Pesci spars with him in a neighborhood-familiar way that tells you these guys probably played stickball while Jake was punching his first bag.

Pauline Kael referred to Jake as "a slob Othello," and his big issue appears to be his terror of being cheated on. He's the sort of dickhead who jeeringly accuses his wife of sucking dick up and down the block but also has a girlfriend on the side. In no time flat he jettisons his first wife and takes up with a neighborhood Lolita named Vicki (Cathy Moriarty). In real life, Vicki (who died in 2005) was only nine years younger than Jake, but in the movie she seems like a teenager (Moriarty was nineteen during filming, De Niro thirty-six). Jake is infatuated with the blonde Vicki, who's everything his dark-haired Italian ex-wife wasn't. But soon he begins to worry that she's having flings with every guy in the neighborhood including his own brother.

Raging Bull is two kinds of movie: a rigorously storyboarded boxing picture and the fights here have yet to be topped for sheer intensity and a Cassavetes-like improv film, in which characters rub each other's nerves raw. Amusingly, to this day De Niro believes that Joey did sleep with Vicki, and Pesci, informed of this, blew it off: "That's just Bobby in character as Jake." The point is that each actor is convinced of his character's own position, right or wrong, and the film's most emotionally brutal scene finds Jake confronting Joey in a conversation that starts out being about a TV on the fritz. It feels utterly real, emerging out of genuine understanding of how such family blowups originate in the banal. Joey's pride in the face of Jake's interrogation "That's a sick question, you're a sick fuck, and I ain't that sick that I'm gonna answer it" reads to Jake as a confession.

Jake's deterioration follows fast; as the saying goes, he gains the world but loses his soul. Eventually he sits by a pool, sheathed in flab (De Niro famously put on 60 pounds; Scorsese decided to show us the fat Jake at the movie's start so that the audience could get their morbid curiosity out of the way), reduced to destroying his championship belt for the jewels when he's busted for letting an underage girl drink in his club. He takes the jewels to a pawn shop and is told they aren't worth as much without the belt. This movie gives no one a break. It all leads to Jake standing before a mirror, rehearsing his lines for his one-man show, punching the air and telling himself he's the boss.

Raging Bull is in perfect keeping with Scorsese's work at the time drenched in Catholic blood and guilt, full of self-loathing fury. The script by Paul Schrader (no stranger to guilt himself) and Mardik Martin, based on La Motta's own (ghostwritten) memoir that is, if anything, even more revealing and incriminating, gives us a protagonist whose philosophy couldn't be further from Rocky Balboa's "It's not how hard you hit, it's how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward." It's as if Jake picked boxing because it gave focus to his rage and his need to be punished for his sins (there were a lot of them that the movie never gets into rape, attempted murder). By the time he fights Sugar Ray Leonard he's practically begging Sugar Ray to punch his head off. He stands against the ropes and waits for oblivion. And yet he can't resist taunting Sugar Ray after it's all over "Y'never got me down, Ray." It goes back to the earlier scene when Jake forces Joey to hit him with all he's got "What are you tryin' to prove?" yells Joey. For Jake, it's how hard he can get hit, and that's all; moving forward isn't a concern.

I consider this Scorsese's masterpiece yes, even above 'GoodFellas' and 'Taxi Driver' because it most successfully transforms his obsessions into violent art. Scorsese and De Niro begin with the base clay of La Motta and end up sculpting a deeply flawed and mutated Christ figure who crucifies himself over and over in his head and creates his own Judases. It's the one Scorsese film whose sustained pitch of pain and sickness renders it near-unwatchable, while Chapman's lens work and Thelma Schoonmaker's impressionistic editing give it a harsh beauty that ensures we can't look away. Released in late 1980 and begun in April 1979, it's the last great film of the '70s the last lacerating personal vision before the era of easy riders and raging bulls came to an end.

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originally posted: 01/31/07 12:40:24
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User Comments

2/27/20 dc could be better 3 stars
12/17/18 Ajp wales Watch rocky instead. 3 stars
4/24/16 Ken Go see this film, if you haven't seen this. It's very excellent! 5 stars
5/18/15 stanley welles a solid, vigorous ringside drama featuring brilliant boxing sequences 5 stars
3/06/14 Justin R. A brutally raw masterpiece. Plus, I love "Rocky", as well. 5 stars
3/20/13 Daniel M. Any film fan who thinks this film is bad is a moron 5 stars
7/18/11 art RAGING BULL BURRIES rocky six ways to Sunday!!!! 5 stars
10/05/10 Dennis One of my top 5 or 10 films. De Niro and Scorsese rock! 5 stars
9/12/10 art THe BEST film OF 1980 as far as i'm concerned!,Forget rocky! 5 stars
6/11/10 Flathead King Raging Bull is a unique and intense film that packs an emotional wallop. 5 stars
3/25/10 Jeff I love both of those film, but if I had to pick one I love more, it's "Raging Bull". 5 stars
10/30/09 Omar Raging excellence. 5 stars
5/20/09 art RAGING BULL BURIES ROCKY! 5 stars
3/23/08 Philip Along with "Goodfellas", De Niro and Scorsese's best film. 5 stars
1/26/08 proper amateur film critic Outstanding drama. Scorsese's masterpiece 5 stars
12/14/07 davidbobo20 DeNiro at his best. 5 stars
10/15/07 fools♫gold raging uniqueness 5 stars
9/24/07 MP Bartley A beautifully shot close up of a cockroach is still a film about a cockroach. Meh. 3 stars
8/02/07 Quigley Amazing portrayal of a person you'd never want to know. Scorsese and De Niro are geniuses. 5 stars
2/01/07 Eric P. This and "Goodfellas" are the best movies ever created. 5 stars
1/31/07 David Pollastrini not great, not terrible 3 stars
12/28/06 Agent Sands De Niro is authentically disturbing, entirely becoming his role, transcending the universe. 5 stars
12/22/06 Eric Phelps My #1 favorite movie of all-time. 5 stars
9/29/06 Josh Racine The best movie ever made. I'm so happy Robert De Niro deserved the Oscar for this. 5 stars
8/01/06 David Cohen Uncompromising drama, DeNiro and Pesci give the performances of their careers 5 stars
4/30/06 Joshua The best fuckin' movie ever. Whoever hates this, sucks dick. 5 stars
4/02/06 JRE incredible acting but the movie isn't that great 4 stars
3/31/06 kerry WOrst film ever.De Niro is a wife abuser and Scorcese is overrated 1 stars
11/18/05 John Dog Too excellent for words. 5 stars
10/21/05 Ben Awesome. 5 stars
10/16/05 Moctezuma Don't miss a single minute of this masterpiece 5 stars
10/07/05 Johnny Whoever says this movie is crap is a fag. 5 stars
9/23/05 orson wells my god you people are insane did we watch the same film. this was crapie o's 1 stars
9/22/05 Lance De Niro's amd Scorsese's best movie. 5 stars
6/22/05 Regis My favorite movie! 5 stars
6/13/05 Agent Sands One of the greatest movies ever made. Period. 100% perfect. 5 stars
6/10/05 Indrid Cold Boy, I must be way off base. I found it mostly gratuitous and forgettable. 3 stars
5/24/05 Carolyn Rathburn Wonderfully done 5 stars
5/22/05 Cham DeNiro's best performance. 5 stars
5/06/05 Regis De Niro's best. 5 stars
3/12/05 Mr. Slave The #1 best movie of the 1980s. If you film fans have not this, GO SEE IT! NOW! 5 stars
3/09/05 Jake Slave Best Movie of the 1980s. 5 stars
2/23/05 Colleen Goldrick a must see 5 stars
2/18/05 susee it was ragging for sure 5 stars
12/27/04 mjoc De Niro's greatest work. Best film of the 80s for sure. 5 stars
12/07/04 Kurt Cobain Definitely the best film made from the 80's, and there hasnt been a modern movie better yet 5 stars
12/06/04 Jimmy Kustes It's okay 3 stars
11/25/04 Tony The #1 best movie of the 1980s, without a doubt. 5 stars
10/23/04 UMER certainly one of the three best performances of all time-simply unbelievable 5 stars
10/13/04 jake great movie- one of the best ever 5 stars
9/26/04 Mel Gibson's Boyfriend DeNiro would have beaten Jesus Christ for the Oscar that year 5 stars
9/09/04 andrewm nop notch 5 stars
8/14/04 magaafi turned the crappsd boxer's story in2 a fantastic if not best eva movie!!! watch it!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
8/03/04 Evan The best film for the 80s 5 stars
6/25/04 Karen Stockdale Watch the fight sequences without wincing - impossible!! Sorcese and de Niro are geniuses 5 stars
5/15/04 Read it, Seen it, Done it Easily one of the best movies of the 80's! 5 stars
5/14/04 John what a blend of sensational acting, writing, editing and directing - yeah Scorsese's best! 5 stars
5/07/04 Daveman Better than Taxi Driver. Stands as Scorcese's greatest achievement of them all!!! 5 stars
4/26/04 The man with the plan Greatest Boxing film 5 stars
3/13/04 James Kustes Worth a look, one of those B&W films during the color era 5 stars
3/02/04 Moses "You talkin' to me?" Roth Wah.... 5 stars
2/08/04 Travis I am not an animal 5 stars
1/31/04 Jay Did you fuck my wife? 5 stars
1/24/04 CC No words.... 5 stars
1/23/04 Betty White De Niro gives a loud performance in this overlong Scorsese piece. 3 stars
10/30/03 Nasty_Gnorc Boring? that's nonsense!! 5 stars
9/29/03 Ida Thunk Who cares about these people? I didn't. Ultimately boring. 2 stars
9/23/03 john_cord The best movie. Evaire. 5 stars
8/03/03 Putski One of DeNiro's Best 4 stars
7/18/03 EZE one of deniros absolute best performances, GWB ur a fuckin idiot 5 stars
6/22/03 daniel iriarte One of the best films ever made, DeNiro is jake LaMotta, a gritty triumph... 5 stars
5/23/03 Ryan F. Mr. Scorses's best. A stunning biography. 5 stars
5/17/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back Mo'Fos!) Scorsese makes his craft look so easy, and De Niro gives THE performance of ANY lifetime!! 5 stars
5/15/03 joshx42 The best film of the 1980's. 5 stars
5/08/03 Doctor Jay One of the best movies of the 1980s!!! 5 stars
4/17/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik One of the top movies of the 80s. 5 stars
3/30/03 defranco71 A masterpiece, but it should have been the Best Picture Winner of 1980. 5 stars
3/22/03 GMan Like LaMotta, you can't keep this movie down. The same for pre-Cape Fear DeNiro. 5 stars
3/01/03 Hi there Anyone who thinks this movie is terrible, eat shit. A masterpiece. 5 stars
1/28/03 The Aussie Film Reviewer Explosive. DeNiro will never be better. 5 stars
1/04/03 rotten s. milk Robert De Niro's greatest role. If you think this movie's bad, you're a retard. 5 stars
1/01/03 Andy Todes first time i realized the power of brilliant editing 5 stars
12/28/02 Ally Gator Overdirected macho posturing about macho posturing. 3 stars
12/03/02 marchela great! 5 stars
12/02/02 Mike De Niro in his prime 5 stars
11/22/02 Wretch i love this movie 5 stars
11/22/02 dead good 5 stars
11/22/02 Dufus best film ever? 5 stars
8/14/02 conman Scorsese's best directing work. Great acting. 5 stars
8/13/02 Cannibus (Hey, Justin, Moriarty didn't win an Oscar.) The best film of the 1980s. Scorsese's best! A stunning, brilliant masterpiece. 5 stars
6/19/02 Monster W. Kung Nothing special, really. Good acting, but too much show-off and sorta boring. 3 stars
6/18/02 Mr Math Phenomenal. Pity to see DeNiro wasting his talent in crap nowadays. 5 stars
4/06/02 Justin Robert DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Cathy Moriarty finally won an Oscar! 5 stars
3/14/02 Shams Huque DeNiro and Pesci are awesome. 5 stars
1/10/02 R.W. Welch De Niro's standout performance makes something special out of a not very special story. 4 stars
12/02/01 travis r. sorensen i can't believe this lost to ordinary people. scorsese was robbed of an oscar. 5 stars
10/20/01 Phoenix One of the best movies of the 80s. 5 stars
10/08/01 daniboy very impressive movie. awesome score 5 stars
9/16/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci should win ten Oscars and ten Golden Globes for this. 5 stars
9/09/01 Stranded on the Island Without a doubt, very good film. However I feel that it is overrated. 4 stars
9/08/01 spaceworm Great film, but just one question: Why? WHY? WHY?? WHY? WHY? 5 stars
8/20/01 Clarance Start to finish, an amazing film! 5 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Hands-down the best Scorsese film. DeNiro's perfect, Pesci's perfect, the movie's perfect! 5 stars
8/05/01 Edwin Menguin Better than penguin sex 5 stars
7/10/01 Ted Halm the conflict between Pesci and DeNiro carries it thru to greatness 5 stars
7/08/01 Reini Urban Very intensive 5 stars
7/06/01 Craig Blanchard Why can't movies like this be made anymore??!! 5 stars
7/05/01 scott weber DeNiro in the jail cell is one of the best acted scenes in any movie ever! 5 stars
7/03/01 Harper Sloane Always a contender. A mighty film. 5 stars
7/02/01 Clarance GO SEE THIS INCREDIBLE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 5 stars
6/11/01 SlipNSlide Don't shoot! Don't shoot! I like, I like. 5 stars
5/25/01 Padraic Coffey Anyone who doesn't think this is a masterpiece should be shot. 5 stars
3/09/01 Chris This is a classic film with a gripping and moving portray of boxer Jake LaMotta's life 5 stars
1/15/01 Action freak Scorsese is a god 5 stars
1/12/01 Skip Intense and ugly, but beautiful. 5 stars
1/01/01 Msitrab One of the best movies ever 5 stars
11/28/00 Cristopher Revilla Another great, self-redemption movie, de niro rocks in this one, a classic!!! 5 stars
11/23/00 A.K. Just the greatest movie of all time. Flawless acting and direction 5 stars
11/21/00 The Bill Head The best movie of the 80s. Scorsese's best! 5 stars
9/22/00 White Rabbit Come on Zall, this film is a masterpiece 5 stars
8/05/00 Elvisfan this lost Best Pic to Ordinary Fucking People? 5 stars
6/17/00 JC This film defines greatness in cinema 5 stars
6/03/00 PJ Greatest film of the 1980's, the greatest performance & direction in the history of acting 5 stars
5/05/00 matt DeNiro DEFINETLY deserved an oscar for his performance in this class true-life story. 5 stars
4/08/00 Bruce Just an amazing acheivement, Scrorsese should have won an oscar 5 stars
3/31/00 movieman The Robert Deniro gives one of the screens besrt acting performances 5 stars
2/19/00 tony s DeNiro gives a haunting performance. 5 stars
1/24/00 Casey Jarzabek THE BEST OF THE BEST 5 stars
1/21/00 vanga shows a young de niro at his best 4 stars
11/26/99 Matt Henderson The greatest film, period. About film, violence, humanity. Incredible. 5 stars
10/30/99 Bozo DeNiro's best; Moriarty beautiful; the whole thing is like a symphony 5 stars
10/25/99 russ the best boxing movie ever made, brutal yet compelling. See this at once! 5 stars
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  14-Nov-1980 (R)
  DVD: 08-Feb-2005

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