Raging Bull - OZY | A Modern Media Company

Raging Bull

Raging Bull

By Eugene S. Robinson

SourceUnited Artists


Because enjoying perfection from a front-row seat is the next best thing to embodying it yourself.

By Eugene S. Robinson

It’s hard to talk about Raging Bull and sound like anything other than a lunatic if you’re a fan. Which we should all be. Right now.

Elevator pitch?

The story of famed Italian-American middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta.

But Raging Bull was that — and so much more than that, including being produced under a glut of circumstances that seemed to point to no one wanting to see it get made. From concerns that it almost too pornographic in its frank depiction of both sex and violence, to director Martin Scorsese’s decision to direct it in black and white and his casting of unknowns, to his belief that this would be his last movie because of a debilitating cocaine addiction and a related near-death experience. 

The star of the film had his share of hardships, too, before earning the Best Actor Award for his pains. Robert De Niro immersed himself in the role, gaining 60 pounds to take a swing at Jake, along with the health problems that go with that kind of physical transformation. There’s also the story that De Niro practically lived with the real Jake LaMotta for an ungodly period of time — rumored to be close to six weeks (and he actually lived with actor Joe Pesci, who played his brother). The movie did a barely respectable box office at the time of its release in 1980, earning $23 million on an $18-million budget. It seemed to be opposed by invisible forces at every turn.

Raging Bull was produced under a glut of circumstances that seemed to point to no one wanting to see it get made.

But the story of the movie’s making is actually a wonderful analog for the moral of the movie itself: an implacable urge to overcome that ends up sowing both destruction and great creation. Jake LaMotta is equal parts insanely jealous and insanely talented, and in one of the film’s most memorable and final scenes, De Niro, carrying those 60 extra pounds, channels Jake channeling Brando from THE scene from On the Waterfront. After LaMotta has lost his wife, his family, his career and his cash, we see him barely hanging on doing dinner theater.

Trenchant and deeply affecting after watching 129 minutes of film that leave you feeling like you did the fighting yourself.

Viddy well.

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