By Jordan Canahai
From its opening shot which captures middleweight boxer Jake LaMotta’s towering presence as he shadowboxes in the ring set to the Intermezzo from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticano to its final moments of LaMotta, now a flabby failure, reciting Brando’s “I coulda been a contender” monologue from On the Waterfront before a dressing room mirror, Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull achieves grandeur despite its grounded realism. The rise-and-fall sports biopic explores how a man copes with jealousy through violence, ensuring his self-destruction.
Robert DeNiro believably brings LaMotta to life as an up-and-coming fighter in top physical condition to overweight sad sack. Scorsese’s direction immerses the audience in LaMotta’s psyche, transforming the boxing ring into a jungle where his animalistic tendencies are set loose and the pummeling he endures serves as penance for his sins. The boxing set pieces convey the impact of sweat, blood, and anguish with every punch. The black and white cinematography evokes a lazy Sunday mood of New York City. Cathy Moriarty as Vicky LaMotta is both cool yet down to earth and Joe Pesci delivers an understated supporting turn as Jake’s long-suffering brother.
Equal measures gut wrenching and beautiful, Raging Bull towers over most films of today like a brooding prizefighter in the thick of the fight. Presented as part of the Buffalo Film Seminars at Dipson Amherst, Tue. March 22nd 7pm.