If you are going to make a film about someone, particularly a sports film, don’t they have to have achieved something or have something unique/interesting about their life? Most sports films I have watched, particularly boxing films, have some sort of key element to the story that affects the main characters attempts at doing their sport. In Rocky it was that he was the ultimate underdog, in The Fighter it was the relationship with his brother and in Cinderella Man it was his age. I could understand the desire to create films of these people’s lives, even if the boxing was almost a distraction from the much better story (The Fighter.)
That’s what I didn’t understand about Raging Bull. There didn’t seem to be a hook to Jake La Motta’s story. I understand that his temper and self-destructive lifestyle and personality were supposed to be the backbone and crux of the story but it never really grabbed me. There was a great relationship between Jake and his brother Joey but this film had come less than a month after I’d seen the same sort of relationship in The Fighter and I preferred that film!
That’s not taking anything away from the Oscar winning (and nominated) performances of De Niro and Pesci. De Niro is brilliant as the terrifying and brutal La Motta while Joe Pesci does a great job of being the “calmer” brother, though even Joey manages to channel Goodfella’s Tommy Devito when smashing someone in a car door!
There are also some brilliant moments in the film. The boxing is shot realistically and suitably brutal, especially with Scorsese’s excellent decision to shoot in black and white. One of the most famous scenes, where Jake accuses Joey of sleeping with his wife, is tension filled, powerhouse acting and pulled off with ease from De Niro and Pesci.
I think the main problem is that everytime I read anything about Raging Bull, the same word kept reappearing, masterpiece! I have mentioned before how expectation can destroy a film for me. I have a list of “classics” that I just didn’t enjoy or get and half the problem was that I was expecting to be blown away. De Niro and Pesci are brilliant. There are some fantastic moments, especially the boxing, but for some of this film, I was slightly bored or unfocused. The film didn’t engage me.
Maybe it’s because I watched it in the wrong order. I’ve already compared it to The Fighter and Cinderella Man and even though those films aren’t particularly cinema masterpieces themselves (though I did really enjoy The Fighter) they probably took what made Raging Bull successful and built on it. There felt like there was a reason I was watching those two boxers stories. I didn’t get that with Raging Bull.
I think Rocky goes some way to being responsible too. Rocky was made four years before Raging Bull and there is a good argument for purposefully distancing this film from Stallone’s. Maybe I wanted something a bit more Rocky, great boxing, a clear obstacle to overcome and a resolution that made me feel like I’d seen a story worth watching. Raging Bull is a good story but it missed the hook that left me satisfied.
Overall, another “classic” I didn’t enjoy as much as I really wanted to. I’m getting worried about finally catching up with films that make top 10 lists or are considered masterpieces. It feels like finally meeting a hero and being sorely disappointed because they’re a jerk or a moron. A lot of people will disagree with this review, I’m sure, but I just didn’t get it (again!)
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)