Now more than ever – and especially in the light of the slickly entertaining Gangs Of New York and The Aviator – the American masterwork Raging Bull represents a uncompromising vision from an impossibly talented and deeply conflicted filmmaker. In 1978 Scorsese, spiritually bankrupt and recovering from hospitalisation, embraced De Niro’s pet project about self-destructive prize-fighter Jake La Motta with unexpected ferocity. The film, which became a personal catharsis for the director, is, at its most fundamental level, a series of increasingly desperate physical confrontations – La Motta with Sugar Ray Robinson, La Motta with brother, La Motta with girlfriend and finally, tragically, La Motta with Miami prison wall. Typically, despite the unedifying character arc, De Niro’s anti-hero is strangely beguiling and, when sporting his infamous excess 60lbs, appears like some morbidly beautiful CG effect made flesh.
Meanwhile, the rapid-fire editing from Thelma Schoonmaker is dizzying, Michael Chapman’s photography timeless and the snippets of opera Cavalleria Rusticana appropriately iconic. Yet this is all pure Scorsese: purgative, violent, unflinching.