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Raging Bull

Gimme a stage where this bull can rage. 

Year: 1980 
Running Time:
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 (XWide) 
Certificate: BBFC 18 Cert – Not suitable for under 18s 
Subtitles: This film is not expected to be subtitled, though this cannot be guaranteed. 
Directed by Martin Scorcese 
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty  
An image from Raging Bull

A biographical film adapted from the book for the screen by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), Raging Bull depicts the professional and personal life of middleweight boxing icon Jake La Motta (De Niro). Motivated by an animalism that transcends the literal confines of the fighting ring, the film charts the destruction La Motta inflicts on his family. Using harsh lighting and starkly contrasting black and white photography, La Motta’s unrelenting ferocity is fully exemplified by the film’s cinematography and highly stylised fight scenes.

The film opens with La Motta as a comedian in his older years before flashing back to his boxing career. This first encounter presents a defeated figure that could not be more disparate with the young La Motta that is subsequently exposed. A character who is simultaneously determined and self-destructive, we observe him obliterate both his boxing opponents inside the ring and, plagued by jealousy and resentment, his wife and brother on the outside.

Nominated for eight Academy Awards (winning Best Actor and Best Editing), this film is arguably the most magnificent collaboration between Scorcese and De Niro, as well as being hailed as one of the greatest films of all time. Joe Pesci is marvelous in his role as Jake’s mistreated brother Joey, once again proving himself to be one of Hollywood’s finest supporting actors.

Raging Bull is a fierce account of masculinity and thwarted ambition, the latter reaching a culmination in Jake’s reference to the legendary line “I could’ve been a contender” from On the Waterfront. Through this character’s tendency towards aggression and annihilation both inside and outside of the ring, Scorcese artfully demonstrates that real brutality lies not in physical violence but in the perverse and distorted confines of the mind.

Harriet Wood

Raging Bull follows the life of boxer Jake La Motta (De Niro), a middleweight icon from the 40’s and 50’s whose fights with Sugar Ray Robinson have become the stuff of legends. The film focuses on La Motta’s anger which makes him as deadly outside the ring as he is in it and follows how paranoia and jealously slowly take over and lead him into a downward spiral of violence and hatred directed towards his young wife Vicki (Moriarty) and his brother Joey (Pesci) Raging Bull has consistently been voted one of the best films of all time and rescued Scorsese from the cocaine addiction that had been dogging his career in the late 70’s. The ferociousness of the fighting scenes still shocks to this very day, with the stark black and white images combining with the stark sound to create an intense experience. The sound effects for punches landing were made by squashing melons and tomatoes and the original tapes were deliberately destroyed by the sound technicians, to prevent then being used again.

De Niro’s performance is superb, creating an individual who comes across as sympathetic, tragic and horrific. He gained over 50 pounds in weight to play the boxer and even broke Joe Pesci’s rib in one sparring scene which was included in the film. Pesci, who broke the same rib 15 years later filming Casino, once again proves that he is probably the finest supporting actor in Hollywood in his role as Jake’s brother.

Raging Bull was nominated for 8 Oscars, winning best film editing and gaining De Niro his third best actor Oscar in the space of 5 years. Never has beauty, violence and tradegy been so well depicted in film.

David Goody

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Screenings of this film:

1999/2000 Autumn Term (35mm)
2010/2011 Spring Term (35mm)