Along with simultaneous video and DVD releases, Scorsese's savage classic is also weighing in this month at selected cinemas as part of a big push for its 20th Anniversary. Raging Bull isn't so much `about' boxing as it is a potent tragedy of a brutal pugilist at war with himself.
Jake LaMotta was a legendary `50s middleweight champ ("The Bronx Bull"), whose clashes with Sugar Ray Robinson remain one of the all-time great sporting feuds. Scorsese captures the poetry of the ring in a series of brief sequences so tautly choreographed they took 10 weeks to film. But the focus is on LaMotta's chaotic domestic life and a dramatic trajectory of personal decline every bit as extreme as his dizzying rise in the ring.
His big mistake is to marry a beautiful blonde, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), who quickly becomes the centrepiece of his paranoia. The crash comes when, reeling with imagined jealousy, LaMotta ejects the one source of dependable support - - his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) - - by beating him half to death in front of his family. Estranged from Vickie and Joey, LaMotta goes into decline, his waistline expanding in inverse proportion to his boxing stature until, in a devastating final scene, the bloated old has-been is jailed for having had sex with a minor, and pounds his fists against the wall of his cell, howling: "Why... why... why?"
De Niro is brilliant, as are the then-untried Pesci and Moriarty, and Scorsese pulls out all the tricks (slo-mo, visceral sound effects, twitchy editing) for a truly extraordinary modern classic - which, figure this one out, lost the Best Picture Oscar to... Ordinary People.