Top 100 Movie Review: #24 – Raging Bull (1980)

Lacked Intrigue.

The most exciting part of this movie was watching Robert De Niro get fat.

Robert De Niro with a BMI <25.

American Film Institute Ranking: #24/100
Academy Awards: Nominated for eight while winning two for Best Actor (De Niro) and Best Film Editing.
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

This film has a lot of pieces: a boxing angle, character study, beautiful black-and-white cinematography, artistic flare. All of this is crammed into a predictable trite: the amazing boxer who is both protagonist/antagonist because of his inner demons.

While the individual pieces are solid in their own way, they never really coalesce into something bigger due to the overall narrative missing a hook.

De Niro after another 100 pounds and a fake nose.

[story/spoilers.] The story is a biopic that follows the events of Jake LaMotta’s life (who is played by Robert De Niro). It opens with a loss in the boxing ring leading Jake and his brother Joey (played by Joe Pesci) into game planning how to get him to challenge for the championship. Inevitable, this involves the Mafia.

Jake begins to be interested in a 15 year old girl, Vickie (played by Cathy Moriarty) even though he is married. Jake gets extremely jealous when it involves Vickie and he ends up beating up important mob people in the process of his rages. This leads to a derailment of his boxing championship dreams requiring him to throw a match to regain mob trust which then leads to his suspension in boxing. Rut Roh.

Eventually, he is reinstated and accomplishes his dream of being a middle weight champion. This success doesn’t enter his personal life though, as he alienates everyone important to him including Vickie and Joey. After retiring from boxing, he opens a night club trying to recapture his importance. He ends up going to jail for allowing underage girls into his club.

After being released, the movie ends with him hyping himself up before a comedy act, imitating Marlon Brando’s “I Could Have Been a Contender” scene from On the Waterfront. 

Jake LaMotta (Robert De Nero) and Joey LaMotta (Joe Pesci)

[analysis.] The movie has some positives. Its production is slick. The scenes flow seamlessly. It occasionally rises to the level of an art form, particularly the boxing scenes which are surreal representations of Jake’s pathos. My problem falls with the story and what is supposed to be a character study. There are no surprises. 

The rise and fall of the boxer isn’t new now, and it wasn’t new then. I was looking for the twist or pop that would make me sit up and pay attention, but it never happened. Jake’s a “bad” guy. He started a “bad” guy. He ends a “bad” guy. The core narrative device of “using inner demons to be a good boxer” isn’t creative enough to stand on its own. It needs something else.

After the first half, I thought the point of the movie would be in some schadenfreude delight of his fall. This doesn’t happen either because of how indifferent I felt to all the characters. Vickie is a placeholder — a female body to be Jake’s attraction, but not someone we get to know or who has autonomy. Joey is sleazy man much in the same vein of his brother. When Jake’s life crumbles and these two decide to leave him, there isn’t much to miss in not seeing them.


[conclusion.] I get it, but I don’t get it. There are some really fine aspects of this film. I just don’t feel like when looked at a whole it means that much. The story arc of Jake LaMotta’s character is charted before we even set sail; we know the destination and how this is all going to end. I was looking for a few surprises along the way, but instead found a straight drive with no turns.

Heralded as the preeminent example of a character study, I instead got a trip down hackneyed lane. There is no way to spoil the story — you’ve already heard it before.

Other People’s Takes:

  • The Stop Button: Bull isn’t interested in the boxing. It’s interested in the fights for their visual and symbolic possibilities, but there aren’t any training montages.”
  • Movie Reviews 101:This is a boxing film that I have heard huge things about, but I didn’t find myself getting engaged with the story in the way I was expecting and found elements of this film kind of boring.”
  • Professional Moron: But the boxing scenes in Raging Bull are turned into high art. Scorsese’s use of black and white is pivotal to this, adding a real portent (big word) weight to proceedings.”

One comment

  1. Very good on your take. Personal and truthful. I like that. I don’t usually like bio pics but I did this one. Not an easy watch because of the relentless barrage of the personalities especially Jake. Usually a little of this goes a long way with me but in this case I was along for the ride and enjoyed it. I was engaged and knew it was a carwreck all the way. Here’s a little take I did on it. I’ll see you later.


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