Raging Bull

Released:  1980

Cast:  Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Frank Vincent, Mario Gallo, Frank Adonis, Johnny Barnes

Oscar Wins:  Best Actor (Robert De Niro), Best Film Editing (Thelma Schoonmaker)

Oscar Nominations:  Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (Joe Pesci), Best Supporting Actress (Cathy Moriarty), Best Director (Martin Scorsese), Best Cinematography (Michael Chapman), Best Sound (Donald O. Mitchell, Bill Nicholson, David J. Kimball, Les Lazarowitz)

SUMMARY:  In 1964, Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is an overweight, aging comedian.  However, in his younger years, LaMotta was a boxing champion.  The film then flashes back to 1941, when Jake loses his first fight to Jimmy Reeves.  Jake is managed by his brother Joey (Joe Pesci), who has Mafia connections.  Despite this loss, Joey believes that he can get Jake a title shot through these connections.  Jake is famed for being a “bully” and a brawler in the ring, and this carries into his personal life.  He and his wife fight constantly, and Jake has no qualms about cheating on her or physically and emotionally abusing her.  In the early 1940s, he meets Vikki (Cathy Moriarty), who is only 15 at the time, at a local swimming pool, and immediately begins pursuing her — even though he’s still married.  In 1947, after getting divorced from his wife, Jake and Vikki get married.  In 1943, Jake fights the renowned Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes) and defeats him, handing Robinson one of the few losses of his career.  Three weeks later, the two fight again, and this time Robinson wins even though LaMotta seemed to dominate the fight.  Jake continues to fight over the years and does very well, but his success is tempered by his extreme behavior at home.  In particular, he is worried about what Vikki does when he is away for a fight.  When Vikki makes a comment about Jake’s next rival being good-looking, Jake loses his temper and berates his wife; during the fight, he savagely goes after the man’s face.  When the couple, accompanied by Joey and his date, are at a club one night, Jake notices Vikki talking to some Mob acquaintances.  This furthers his suspicions, and he makes Joey swear to keep an eye on Vikki.  A short time later, when Jake is out of town, Joey sees Vikki enter the Copacabana with this same Mob acquaintance.  He confronts her, and she tells him that she is leaving Jake.  This angers Joey, as does the behavior of the man she’s with, Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent) — also Joey’s Mafia connection — so Joey viciously attacks Batts, beating him up and later repeatedly slamming his head with a car door.  The local head of the Mafia, Tommy Como (Nicholas Colasanto), is appalled by this behavior, and forces the two men to apologize to each other.  Como also tells Joey that if Jake wants a title shot (which is controlled by the Mob, and therefore Como), he will have to throw his fight against Billy Fox.  Jake agrees to do this, but is so obvious in the defeat that he is suspended by the board.  After some time, he is reinstated:  in 1949, he finally wins the middleweight title after defeating Marcel Cerdan.

A year later, Jake bears little resemblance to the man who won the title:  he is overweight, eats constantly, and seems to have lost interest in boxing.  Joey is not shy about voicing his disgust with the new Jake, which rouses Jake’s suspicions.  He brings up the fight at the Copacabana, the real reason for which Joey has kept from Jake.  When Joey refuses to answer Jake’s questions, Jake assumes that it’s because Joey is having an affair with Vikki.  Joey is highly insulted that his brother will not believe his claims of innocence, and stops talking to him.  Jake then tries to get Vikki to admit to the affair, but she too denies it.  This causes a huge fight between the couple, but they eventually make up.  In 1950, Jake manages to get into good enough shape to defend his title against Laurent Dauthuille, though it goes fifteen rounds.  Afterwards, Vikki tries to get Jake to call Joey and apologize, but when Jake does call, he cannot make himself say anything.  Following this incident, Jake’s career hits the skids; he loses his title in 1951, in his final fight with Sugar Ray Robinson.  By 1956, Jake has retired, and he, Vikki and their children have moved to Miami where Jake opens a nightclub.  Unfortunately, his relationship with Vikki does not improve, and she announces that she is finally leaving him, and will be suing for full custody of their children.  Jake responds by hitting on young women in the club, but this too backfires after he fails to card a young woman at the club who turns out to be only 14.  In an attempt to pay off the necessary authorities in the impending criminal case, Jake dismantles his championship belt and tries to sell the jewels from it.  Jake fails to raise the necessary money, and in 1957 is sent to prison.  He is out by 1958, when he runs into Joey on the street.  Jake wants to reunite with Joey, but Joey is wary and stand-offish.  After this, Jake begins doing his comedy stand-up routine, which takes the viewer back to the beginning of the movie.

MY TAKE:  Robert De Niro may have won an Oscar for this performance, but I thought the movie was a little dull.  It focuses mainly on Jake LaMotta the person, which is interesting, but I would have actually liked to see a little more boxing and/or training.  Basically, the problem with Jake is that he’s the same person inside and outside the ring:  a brute and a bully.  This works out great when he’s fighting, because it makes him aggressive and somewhat immune to pain.  At home, it makes him abusive, both emotionally and physically.  Jake’s whole career seems to build up to his shot at a title, and once he gets that, everything sort of falls apart.  He finally pushes both his brother and Vikki too far, causing both of them to leave him, and he gets really overweight, starts doing stand-up, and ultimately ends up in jail.  The interesting thing is that he seems to become a nicer person once he’s not boxing anymore.  It’s kind of a sad story, even though Jake is a jerk, because it’s never fun to see somebody who was on top of the world now at the bottom of it.  There is one redeeming aspect, if you catch it:  the real Jake LaMotta was an adviser on the film, proving that he did manage to get things back together.  Joe Pesci is really good as Jake’s brother, but then again he’s usually good at playing violent supporting characters with Mob ties.  This actually makes his role in Home Alone both funnier and more sinister:  sinister because you’re used to seeing him as a rather loose cannon, and funny because it’s so different from his usual type of role.  He’s also hilarious as the title character in My Cousin Vinny.  Another two fun facts:  the Mob boss in the movie, Tommy Como, is played by Nicholas Colasanto, who I recognized because he played Coach on the TV show Cheers; Vikki is more recognizable to me as the crazy realtor Carrigan in the Casper movie.

RATING:  Okay.




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