Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Essentials- Raging Bull (1980)

The Essentials-#6

Raging Bull (1980)

For the most part, sports movies are not really for me. I feel as if the genre has nothing to offer except inspiration and cliche. Each sports movie usually centers around an individual (or team) that is good at a particular sport, the audience watches as they fall from grace, and as they slowly climb the latter back up to greatness. Each sports movie is the same formula every time. 

The greatest sports movies of all time push past these cliches and try something different. They bend or break the rules that standard sports films abide by. Or they just tell a great story well. Martin Scorsese is one of the master storytellers in the history of cinema. With "Raging Bull," Scorsese tells the true story of boxer Jake La Matta (played by Robert De Niro).

Scorsese isn't making the typical sports movie, however. He does what Scorsese does best and outlines the rise and fall of a king. When we meet La Matta he is ambitious, kind and has an edge to change his life and his stance in boxing. His younger brother Joey (Joe Pesci) trains him and gets him boxing fights. 

He then meets a girl. And usually as these stories often go, everything after that changes. We see Jake La Matta rise as a boxer, he's love life blossoms and his relationship with his brother is stronger than ever before.

The reason why the movie works for start to finish is due in part by the chemistry between De Niro and Pesci. If their chemistry wasn't tight, the movie would fall flat. The audience believes in the ambitions of the brothers, they believe when things begin to go well for them. When Jake La Matta enters married life that's when ties between the brothers begin to go downhill. Jake is so controlling and jealous that he lashes against any man who tries to talk to his new wife, even his brother. One of the film's most heartbreaking moments was near the end. Years later, Jake tries to reconcile with his brother, but Joey still burned from the past does not take his brothers offer. It is one of the saddest moments in the history of film.

Jake's wife, named Vicki is played by Cathy Moriarty and she does great work in her role. It is really great how she is able to see the initial sweetness of Jake, then as their marriage goes on. She begins to notice just how detached he really is. It is a stellar performances, one of the many to look for.

Robert De Niro is one of the greatest performers to ever live. Not just an actor or director but performer of any kind. The man is a true artist. He brings the Jake La Matta character to life with firm precision. This performances is just one of the many highlights of this great man's career.

What drives the film from very good to great in my opinion however, is the final scene of the film. After his boxing career, La Matta was a stand up comedian for a time. The entire film is a flashback from this point and La Matta quotes the Bible to himself in the mirror. It proves that individuals can still find redemption, however, they must always be willing to look for it. It is a powerful message to include in a sports movie, which is why "Raging Bull" is one of the best.

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