“Raging Bull” is one of Martin Scorsese’s masterpiece which may have not done well in the box office because no one knew how to interpret the violence featured in the film but after time, critics and cinema publications worldwide recognize how “Raging Bull” was wonderful cinema.
Where people expected another “Rocky”, “Raging Bull” was nothing like that film. Where “Rocky” made viewers sympathetic to a man that one would root for, “Raging Bull” was the opposite. As viewers, we are forced to be sympathetic to a man who is no angel, who had personal issues and really, a guy that had his own personal inner demons. A guy that many people feared and didn’t want to get on his bad side.
Jake LaMotta was not a perfect man. Awesome boxer in the ’40s with an iron chin and a fighting style that really scared those who were in the ring with him but this is not a film just about boxing, this is a film about man’s self-destruction. A man who loses it all by bad decision-making and although the film is loosely based on LaMotta’s real life but in reality, as Vikki LaMotta told Jake who was depressed about seeing what kind of man he was, when he asked her was he that bad, her answer was “he was worse”.
That’s what makes “Raging Bull” so intriguing because for the most part, people never sympathize with a brutal man, an abusive man but through “Raging Bull”, it’s like watching an intriguing trainwreck of how Jake LaMotta lived his life and how this man had everything from a wonderful boxing career, made great money, had a beautiful wife but it was never enough for him. He wanted more money, he was blinded my jealousy and he lived his life day-by-day and eventually got himself in trouble.
And to accurately show this man’s life, it was going to take remarkable dedication.
This was a story that Robert De Niro wanted to be made into a film. He started pitching it to Scorsese back when they were doing “Mean Streets” six years before “Raging Bull” was filmed. He continued to persuade him year after year and even told him that he would do everything necessary to get the physique of a boxer and be toned and then gain 60-pounds to show Jake LaMotta after his prime. That’s amazing dedication but for Scorsese, this was a man who was going through personal challenges. He believed he lost his filmmaking mojo and wanted to quite feature films. He was not feeling good about his life and when “Raging Bull” didn’t become the box office hit like “Rocky”, needless to say, Scorsese wasn’t thinking he would have much of a career afterward. Especially from the unfavorable reviews it received from the Hollywood Reporter and Variety Magazine.
Also, professionals advised Scorsese to not use unknowns but he was dedicated in hiring Cathy Moriarty to play Vickie LaMotta and Joe Pesci to play Joey LaMotta and he kept to that decision because the collaboration between De Niro and Pesci would become wonderful as the two were able to improvise and make it feel real and they continued that with “Goodfellas” and “Casino”. As for Cathy Moriarty, this person was working at a nightclub in the Bronx with no acting experience but she had that style that complimented Jake’s character.
And while the acting was magnificent, it was Scorsese along with editor Thelma Schoonmaker that really made “Raging Bull” literally kick ass!
Scorsese wanted to achieve perfection. He knew very little about boxing but he wanted to emulate it the best that he can but also making sure that every boxing match was different. And while most actors would complain, De Niro was patient. He wanted the role and he has an amazing repertoire with Scorsese and no matter how many takes it took, they got the fighting down with some matches being nearly an exact copy of the actual fight (using classic footage, Scorsese worked up storyboards) and Thelma Schoonmaker is one of the best in the business and knows what Scorsese wants but knowing hot to piece together every punch, capturing the brutality of a boxing match and making the viewer see the pain that LaMotta was inflicting or getting himself.
With “Raging Bull”, this is a film that features wonderful filmmaking, top notch screenplay and magnificent acting that everything comes together perfectly.