RAGING BULL (1980). Director: Martin Scorsese.
The unapologetic story of boxer Jake La Motta, who became middle-weight champion of the world for a time but also beat his wife out of almost pathological jealousy and all around was his own worst enemy, winding up doing stale routines in nightclubs in an effort to hold on to his celebrity and make some money. While the film is well-made and well-acted for the most part, Scorsese too often confuses violence with drama, and the film never quite overcomes the fact that its lead character is utterly repellent. Robert De Niro is fine as La Motta, but often he seems more like De Niro than La Motta. Cathy Moriarty and Joe Pesci are also quite good as, respectively, La Motta's wife and brother, whom he accuses of having an affair together. Sometimes Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin's screenplay strains to find serious drama in this story of a moronic lug. Still, while the film isn't really great despite its reputation, it does hold the attention and has some good scenes. Much of the film's atmosphere and power is actually derived from the background music, taken from the work of Italian opera composer Pietro Mascagni (the music comes from Cavalleria rusticana, Silvano and Guglielmo Ratcliff). This really doesn't compare favorably to other films that also deal with brutal environments and characters, such as On the Waterfront.
Verdict: Acclaimed but not for all tastes. ***.