Scorsese & De Niro, 1980
- Martin Scorsese's 1980 biopic Raging Bull chronicles the uphill journey of middleweight fighter Jake LaMotta, a man whose jealousy, rage, and sadomasochism hurt him more than any boxer he fought in the ring. Considered one of the greatest films ever made, Raging Bull impressed me on a technical level more than it made an emotional impact.
The main reason that Raging Bull does not make as big of an impression on me than it seems to do for many other cinephiles is because the generally unlikable and uninteresting Jake LaMotta character is not made sympathetic in any way by De Niro's embellished method performance. Robert De Niro, with the actors' school formula, chews the scenery as LaMotta. Winning an Oscar for Best Actor for the role, De Niro impresses to a degree but, like many other method actors, wears the fact that he is acting on his sleeve which is effective in smothering out any accusations of overacting but does not do much for convincing character portrayals. De Niro gives an impassioned portrayal of an angry man for sure but instead of disappearing into the character, De Niro disappears into the "method" of his getting into the character. This focus on the method rather than the character is why many method actors – like Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, and De Niro – often fail to impress me.
For my money, supporting star Joe Pesci, as colorful as he is, creates a much more genuine and interesting character with his predominantly restrained performance of Jake's brother, manager, and trainer Joey LaMotta. If Pesci employs a method, it is not apparent because, unlike De Niro, he convinces as his character without putting on a circus show. As Jake's wife Vickie, Cathy Moriarty is another more impressive supporter with a quieter, thoughtful performance with a Kim Novak and Eva Marie Saint vibe that echoes a classic rather than a method style.
While De Niro's performance of LaMotta did not leave a great impression on me, I have to say that Raging Bull is easily one of Scorsese's best works as far as visuals and atmosphere are concerned. Scorsese, with cinematographer Michael Chapman, creates a brilliant black-and-white picture with a striking shadow palette. The film features a pseudo-documentary style and, while it is not a technique that I am largely fond of, the documentary feel is not overused and actually contributes very positively to the sense of reality that the film conveys. The strong look and feel of the film is the main reason that I end up liking Raging Bull despite not being particularly keen on its star performance.
CBC Rating: 8/10