A few months ago, I mentioned I was going to start review classic movies as well as current cinematic releases, well it’s taken me a while but here we go.
Martin Scorsese is a film-maker of great renown, in fact that may be an understatement, he’s practically Hollywood royalty. With a string of classics as long as your arm on his CV he is quite rightly regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time.
His partnership with Robert DeNiro is also a highly regarded one and has heralded such acclaimed movies as Taxi Driver (1976) and Goodfellas (1990). This is seen as a seminal Scorsese work, even being described as his ‘magnum opus’. With that said, let’s take a look.
Jake LaMotta is a hard-hitting middleweight boxer, known for being a bully both in and out of the ring. Jake navigates the hardships in the ring and in his troubled home life with the help of his younger brother and manager Joey, but his life is only ever one fight away from unravelling completely…
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a movie as visually stunning as Raging Bull, shot entirely in black-and-white, each frame looks and feels like an artwork in it’s own right. Some of Scorsese’s shot choices are utterly breath-taking, especially in the boxing sequences, this artistic filming style coupled with the film’s incredible score makes for a visually and audibly stunning experience.
The choice to make the movie black-and-white is an inspired one I feel, firstly given the time period in which the film is based (early 40’s to late 60’s) it helps build a realistic feel of the time, and practically, the prosthetic DeNiro is wearing on his nose would have been markedly more noticeable in colour, it’s noticeable in black-and-white but doesn’t compromise the look as much, it could have been extremely distracting in colour.
The acting then, well, as expected from a Scorsese film, it’s marvellous. It’s incredible disheartening to see Robert DeNiro in a string of second-rate comedies in modern times when you see what he was capable of. Portraying Jake as likeable one minute and brutal and uncompromising next, a scene later in the film showing the character at his lowest ebb is where the performance reaches it’s peak for me, with all Jake’s pent-up emotion released in own frustrating and nerve-shatteringly moving scene.
Supporting DeNiro was the equally talented Joe Pesci. Seasoned Scorsese viewers will know just how mighty Pesci can be, but to a wider audience, he’s criminally underrated (his role in the Home Alone movies as one of the burglars being probably his most mainstream role) he is mighty here. As the younger of the LaMotta brothers he is mocked and beaten by his brother, giving him his own hair-trigger temper, but beneath that lays a softness that isn’t evidenced in his brother, Joey has the vulnerability that makes him a more complete person, not to mention considerably more well-rounded than his brother.
It is not without it’s quibbles however, the main one being it really could have been 10 minutes shorter and not lost anything. It has a common movie problem of building to a satisfying conclusion only to carry on for another 15-20 minutes. Some scenes aren’t what you would call ‘filler’ but would have made the film generally more focused if they were cut.
Do not go into this movie expecting Rocky, it is not a tale of triumphing over the odds, it’s a gritty tale of life. It’s unflinching, gritty and bittersweet, a film that presents the idea that not all stories have a happy ending. The highs are high and the lows are devastatingly low, and for that reason, it gets a hearty recommendation, this really is a must-see for film fans.