Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Raging Bull

If you have read either of my first two posts, you will have by now figured out that Robert De Niro is one of my very favorite actors. I believe he has the talent, skill, drive and determination of any actor of his generation or any generation before or after. Now, I also imagine that some of you are thinking "wow, another De Niro film? This guy's got a one track mind". But I promise, after the following review, I will steer clear of ol' "Bobby Milk" for awhile. First, however, I would love to review one of my very favorite films, definitely in the top 10, and one of 4 De Niro films that sit in that top 10. Today I want to review "Raging Bull".

"Raging Bull" is a story of success. It is arguably the greatest film about boxing ever made, second only, perhaps, to the glorious "Rocky". This film gives the viewer an inside look on the broken life and inner struggles of middleweight boxer Jake Lamotta, and is based on a true story. Let me tell you right now that, in the following paragraphs, the Jake Lamotta to whom I am referring is the Lamotta of the film, not that of real life. Lamotta is a rising star in the boxing world, and, after losing his first professional fight, buckles down and climbs the ladder of middleweight boxing. The film takes place largely in the late 40s, though gradually moves into the 50s, and even shows bits and pieces of the 1960s. Lamotta (played, of course, by De Niro) has got a pretty tough home life; a brother mixed up in the mafia, (brilliantly played by Joe Pesci) a wife whose antics enrage him to the point of physical violence towards her, and a 15-year old vixen who has drawn his forbidden attraction. Lamotta's personal life and professional career clash fairly early in the film. Because of his quick ascension to being one of the toughest boxers around, other fighters are afraid to face him. As a result, Lamotta has little chance at even a shot at the middleweight championship. His brother, who, like I said, is seriously involved with the mafia, gets his goombah pals to give Lamotta a bit of a nudge in the right direction by acting behind the scenes, if you get my drift.

This film is perfectly cast, and wonderfully acted. De Niro, right in his element as a thoughtful, lonely, slightly insane tough guy, plays the role of Jake Lamotta perfectly. Not to mention he looks almost identical to the real Lamotta (look up a photograph and compare it--it's uncanny). Cathy Moriarty plays the achingly sexual Vickie, a young woman of 15 who has taken to hanging around with the mobsters in the Bronx, one of whom being Joey, Jake's brother. Joey is played by Joe Pesci, the quintessential mobster. But what's different about this role is Pesci's demeanor. Generally, when Pesci plays a mobster, he's loud, violent and obnoxious twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. In this role, there is only one terribly violent scene, (outside of all the boxing, obviously) and it does involve Pesci, but, that being said, his character Joey is sweet, quiet and thoughtful when conversing with Jake. He tends to curse a lot around his friends but, per request of Jake, he doesn't curse around him. The relationship between the two men is very intimate, and this has to be the result of some fantastic acting because "Raging Bull" was the first film in which this dynamic duo was cast. This has to say something about both actors, talent-wise; that they could play such a subtly emotional pair so early in their personal relationship. Fantastic.

In conclusion, I want to make a correction. I think that "Raging Bull" would definitely go into my top 5 list, rather than top 10. It is a brilliantly acted, directed, and written film. Which actually brings me to my last point, one I forgot to add earlier. The screenplay for "Raging Bull" was written by Paul Schrader, the man who was also responsible for the script of "Taxi Driver" and "American Gigolo". Writers are often overlooked by viewers, (myself included) but Schrader deserves a more than honorable mention for being one of the most prominent screenwriters of his time. He has written some really fantastic characters, all of whom have been a little bit twisted in the head, but fantastic none the less. A big thanks to Mr. Schrader. So, that being said, I can't recommend this film highly enough. Has to be one of the best films ever made, definitely one of Martin Scorsese's best pictures, and undoubtedly Robert De Niro's finest performance, with the exception of the omnipresent "Taxi Driver". Go out and rent this movie right now...it's at Videoport AND Jet Video, you lazy Deering neighborhood readers, so you have no excuse not to take a quick stroll and pick it up. That's all for today!

P.S. In case any of you are wondering...my top 5 list reads as follows:
1. Taxi Driver
2. The Godfather
3. Raging Bull
4. The Godfather Part II
5. Dog Day Afternoon

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