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Raging Bull

Updated on March 30th, 2019

The life of boxer Jake LaMotta, as the violence and temper that leads him to the top in the ring destroys his life outside of it.

When Jake LaMotta steps into a boxing ring and obliterates his opponent, he’s a prizefighter. But when he treats his family and friends the same way, he’s a ticking time bomb, ready to go off at any moment. Though LaMotta wants his family’s love, something always seems to come between them. Perhaps it’s his violent bouts of paranoia and jealousy. This kind of rage helped make him a champ, but in real life, he winds up in the ring alone.

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Movie Reviews: “Raging Bull

Movie Review: Hollywood Reporter

Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, in which Robert De Niro stars as boxer Jake La Motta, is probably the most unromanticized movie biography ever produced by Hollywood. The Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff United Artists release offers an extreme cinema verite view of the world of professional boxing and it is very graphic in terms of language and violence, which may be a problem for some audiences. De Niro, however, is brilliant and his performance should be a leading contender in this year’s Oscar competition.

Based on La Motta’s autobiography, which was written with Joseph Carter and Peter Aavage, the screenplay by Paul Schader and Maardik Martin makes no attempt to glamorize the fighter’s life. It’s a downbeat study of a man whose only concern is winning the middleweight championship and whose unfounded jealousy and violent temper alienated everyone around him. There is only one brief moment in the film — when La Motta breaks down and cries after he has thrown a fight in order to get a chance at the championship — that the character is even the least bit sympathetic. Otherwise, he is totally unlikable.

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Movie Review: Washington Post

Martin Scorsese’s obsession with a dubious mystique of masculinity turns “Raging Bull” into a ponderous work of metaphysical cinematic bull.

Opening today at area theaters, “Raging Bull” is Scorsese’s opaque interpretation of the autobiography of former middleweight boxing champion Jake La Motta, played by Robert De Niro. As envisioned by Scorsese and embodied by De Niro, La Motta seems more emblematic than recognizably human.

A uniquely alienating movie pugilist, he emerges without the dignity of either a victim or survivor. Instead, he appears to be an unmitigated brute and slob.Impossible to identify or sympathize with in conventional dramatic terms, he’s the oddest choice of a protagonist, even an anti-heroic protagonist, in movie history.

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Movie Review: Slant Magazine

Note, however, that of all the issues that Scorsese tries to cram into his on-screen depictions of masculine viciousness, notions of violence as a product of carefully explored mental disturbance don’t register as strongly. His films are not anti-psychological, and one can certainly read many of Scorsese’s protagonists as victims of psychic traumas. And yet we aren’t asked to put Travis Bickle, Henry Hill, or other of his (anti)heroes on the analyst’s couch. (This might be why The Aviator’s mommy-scrubbed-me-rather-than-loved-me opening flashback feels so clunky.) We view them more as products of their environment, shaped—and often warped—by cultural expectations whose roots lie beyond their understanding.

This contributes to that Scorsese distance: the emotional and intellectual space between us and the character that allows us to plug into their experience while always remaining a bit outside of it, all the better to question their destructive acts. We know them and yet we don’t, as perhaps too clear an understanding of their inner workings might upset the delicate balance of empathy and objectivity that allows Scorsese to keep his various thematic plates spinning in the air.

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