This is one of those films that i was absolutely obsessed about in my high school years, watching bits and pieces of it and dissecting and analysing every shot and scene. Then all of a sudden i realise that it had been 6 years since i had watched it last.
I figured the time was right to check it out again.
We follow the rise and fall of Jake “The Raging Bull” Lamotta as he destroys himself and others with his unstable nature.
God damn, is Scorsese good. Despite my serious troubles with the film it remains so addictable and irresistibly watchable that i tend to forget my problems with it until it’s over. From the brutal fast-moving boxing matches to the slow and brutal out of the ring confrontations, Scorsese paces and shoots all of his scenes to achieve a perfect balance of mood between each of them (particularly his use of sound).
It’s not a hard thing to forget that Deniro was once a great actor. If ever in doubt of that this is certainly one of his many films that will reaffirm ones faith in him. Joe Pesci, gives his definitive version of the nasally smart ass with a violent temper that he plays in all of Scorsese movies here, as his more stable demeanour serves as a great contrast for the director to use.
I have a feeling that this is one of those films that joins the ranks of The Empire Strikes Back, in being untouchable and immune to criticism. Young Manuel would most certainly have agreed, and called me an idiot who just doesn’t “get it”. Well considering the amount of time its been since i last watched the film, i’m amazed at how much i’ve changed.
For starters, i was swept up so completely by this film’s style and power i was blinded to the fact that Lamotta was a vicious person that i really wouldn’t want anything to do with. Nowhere is it written that main characters have to be likable, but it really makes the film a bit of a chore to sit through when i can’t stand watching what the film is focusing on.
I “get it” that the film is supposed to explore what makes Lamotta tick, and juxtapose his boxing prowess with his out of the ring insecurities to show the dichotomy of this particular man. That still doesn’t make him very interesting though, i simply see him as a vicious, paranoid wife beater who got his shot then lost it because he lost his heart. There is nothing mysterious about Lamotta to me, as his strength in the ring is due to his rage, and his problems in life are due to his crippling paranoia and insecurities. There’s almost nothing endearing about him to me. This reaches its head when he beats his hands to a bloody pulp on his prison cell doors and i’m just wondering why i should really care.
The film’s third act is so rushed that it is completely bewildering, and gives me the impression Scorsese wasn’t very interested in how Lamotta apparently changed his ways. The jump in time and situation from 1951-1956 is so large and skips out on so many things that when his wife suddenly leaves him i’m left in confusion as to why. It’s left to me to assume that he still beats his wife in the meantime, but considering that the last time we saw them in 1951 and the interview in 1956 they seemed happy together it just comes out of left field.
Then there’s the final scene, i get it, he’s realises he was an awful person and is trying to change in light of his new found self awareness. I’m sorry 2 hours of story showing this man to be a vile person is not washed away by him reciting Brando in front of a mirror (get it? Self reflection?!?!) and a 30 second bible quote.
I suppose with what i’ve written above i should just hand in my filmy card here. After all what idiot would say anything bad about Raging Fucking Bull? Well, i’ve said it before and i will continue to say it: i’m not going to lie to myself, Raging Bull is not a pick of mine for greatest films ever made.
However, i’m going to take a step back from things here, if you reading this are curious about the film i do recommend that you watch it. Its got performances, style, and substance up the wazoo and there’s absolutely nothing wrong in saying that it is a great piece of cinema. It just doesn’t do it for me.
*** OUT OF FIVE