Nicholas Colasanto

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Raging Bull Review


Essential
Twenty-five years since its release, Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Raging Bull has been crowned with so many critical laurels that another word in praise of it might seem hopelessly redundant. To claim that it puts to shame virtually any American film made since sounds about right, but it might be more worthwhile to note how the film showcases Scorsese's artistic genius in its purest form -- unsullied by ego, commercial pressures, or the self-doubt that can cloud a more jaded artist's vision. Raging Bull is a work of religious devotion by a filmmaker to his craft and an apotheosis of Scorsese's promise.

The film charts the life and career of boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) from his rise to glory in the 1940s to his fall into washed-up grotesquery in the '50s, a lounge lizard parody of his former self. That LaMotta turns into the very sort of schmuck, fat-bellied and dissipated, that he would've abhorred in his youth marks one of Scorsese's most poignant treatments of his trademark theme of the individual struggling to transcend his worst instincts to achieve greatness and grace. Anger and bitterness are ever-present here, either churning at the film's surface or roiling just below in slow burn. LaMotta, the insecure hothead who chafes at the underworld hoods who've ensnared him, directs his rage outward in the form of sexual jealousy at his wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), and through his tornado-like fury in the ring. The boxer's battle for self-acceptance even threatens the most meaningful and enduring relationship he's got, the one with his brother and manager, Joey (Joe Pesci); indeed, Raging Bull is, to a large extent, about the effect of blind ambition on our most meaningful, enduring relationships.

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