When this biography of World’s Greatest Jerk Jake LaMotta was released in 1980, it went on to gross $23 million in the United States, a modest haul proving that the American public – at least on occasion – has more sense than do critics, because most moviegoers opted to stay home.
According to Entertainment Weekly, Martin Scorsese’s boxing drama is the fifth-greatest film of all time. Number six all-time, counters a poll in Sight & Sound. One of the ten greatest movies ever made, says Roger Ebert.
Raging Bull is a “knockout” alright: It nearly put me to sleep half a dozen times. What a long, boring slog of a movie. It is made up entirely of unlikeable characters, a script filled with boxing clichés, and a predictable plot. You have to be emotionally invested in a character – any character – to follow a film this dispiriting for more than two hours. There is absolutely no one to root for in Raging Bull, just actors to stare at.
Jake (Robert De Niro) gets married. Jake gets jealous. Jake boxes. Jake gets jealous again. Jake boxes some more. Jake retires and feels sorry for himself. There is lots of swearing and yelling and Brooklyn accents; if that’s your idea of compelling drama, then this is the movie for you.
The acting is generally good, although a wooden Cathy Moriarty, as Jake’s child-bride Vickie, doesn’t remotely resemble the 14-year-old she’s supposed to be at the beginning of the film, and she exudes all the personality of a petrified turnip. Joe Pesci, acting in his first big role, plays the kind of character Pesci always plays (“feisty”).
So why is Raging Bull such a critical favorite? I have three theories: 1) It’s in black and white, which signifies “serious” to some folks. 2) The boxing scenes, full of slow-motion blood, sweat and tears, seemed edgy in 1980. 3) The project reunited critics’ darlings Scorsese, De Niro, and writer Paul Schrader, who gave us the superior Taxi Driver. I guess some critics were also taken with the film’s profound message, which is apparently “Be nice.”
I’m siding with the American public, because most of them were smart enough to stay away from this tedious, unpleasant movie. Grade: C-
Director: Martin Scorsese Cast: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Mario Gallo, Frank Adonis, Joseph Bono, Frank Topham Release: 1980
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