Raging Bull (1980)

23 Aug

I didn’t realize it until now, but I was actually working off a different list way back in my first attempt to watch all of AFI’s Top 100 movies.  The initial list came out in 1998, and was modified in 2007 to remove some movies, add others, and change around some ranking.  Wikipedia has a side-by-side comparison of the lists.  I’m working off the 2007 list this time, but even so, I went into the task having already watched nearly half the movies.

Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull came in 4th on the list (and 24th on the original list).  I’m not sure why.  With the exception of one short scene, I found the movie boring and the characters flat.

Sports movies aren’t my genre to begin with, but I can always get into a good story.  Raging Bull just didn’t have one, it didn’t have much of a story at all.   After reading Jake LaMotta’s autobiography, Robert De Niro was so compelled by the story that he pressured Scorsese into making the film.  De Niro admitted the book wasn’t very good, and I really don’t know what about LaMotta was compelling. The film didn’t really go anywhere, plot or character wise. LaMotta was hot tempered, had trouble with the mob, and abused his wife.  That’s the whole film. I just saved you 2 hours, 9 minutes.

By the time I was old enough to really get into movies, Robert De Niro’s career of “bad boy” characters was well past its heyday, and he was either playing older, mild mannered roles  (think Analyze This, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Meet the Parents, etc.) or the “old cop” role. It is a completely different experience to go into seeing De Niro in this role, with the knowledge and context of his later-career filmography, than it would have been to see this film fresh at the time it was released.  It’s a difficulty I have with most of the movies on the list, because I feel that many of them were creative and innovative in ways I’ll never notice, because my viewing is colored by so many later films and performances.

I do have to give De Niro credit for his brilliant acting in the jail scene.  There’s not much I can say to explain it with any real justice, you should watch it yourself.


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