A sporting biopic unlike any other, Martin Scorsese‘s astonishing masterpiece Raging Bull (1980) is surely one of the greatest cinematic achievements of all time. Although many rightly claim it to be the greatest sports movie of all time, Raging Bull‘s praise should not merely be confined to one genre, as it is unquestionably one of the finest pieces ever committed to film. Charting the incredible rise and fall of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta, Raging Bull remains absolutely unflinching in its depiction of this complex, brutal and ultimately unique individual.
From his early years as a young boxer of enormous potential, through his destructive and erratic relationships with his wife and brother/manager, and eventually his latter years as a seedy club owner and stand up comedian, Scorsese provides a painfully honest, yet remarkably beautiful depiction of each and every aspect of La Motta’s professional and personal life. While it may seem as though heaping superlatives upon a film already assured of such magnitude and critical acclaim as Raging Bull is hardly an original approach to its scrutiny, I find it virtually impossible to find even a single fault in this most perfect of films. Rarely does one encounter a movie in which each of its components are so expertly woven together to create such a perfectly cohesive whole.
De Niro’s portrayal of La Motta’s decline and psychological disintegration can often be painful to watch; the scene in which we see him in a jail cell weeping whilst punching and slamming his head into a brick wall being one of the film’s most violently powerful moments. However, it is not just De Niro that is on fine form; similarly brilliant in his performances is Joe Pesci as Joey, La Motta’s brother and manager. The loving, yet intensely strained relationship between the two is genuinely moving. For an example of just how good these two are on screen together, one need look no further than the famous confrontation scene in which Jake accuses Joey of having an affair with his wife. With each and every second that passes, the tension becomes more and more unbearable; rivalling the more physically intense fight scenes in terms of sheer emotional conflict.