Sunday, October 17, 2010

Raging Bull

I could sort of understand how Goodfellas didn't win for Best Picture. It was a very good movie, but for some reason I don't find it as transcendent as many others do. Raging Bull on the other hand... what more could Scorsese do? The black and white cinematography is probably the best I've ever seen. The way every single shot is framed seems to have a purpose and work exactly towards the movie's goals. The plot is pure, and the kind of thing the voters like - the true story of a brilliant boxer who is his own worst enemy thanks to some crippling insecurities and poorly made decisions. The cast is outstanding, particularly Robert De Niro in the role of a lifetime. He worked out into real fighting shape for the scenes as middleweight champion Jake LaMotta, and then gained sixty pounds to portray him in his later years. Add that physical sacrifice to the actual work he does in front of the camera, transforming himself into another person and dominating the screen while doing so - it's incredible. He rightly won the Oscar, but the performance would have meant little without the properly told story around it, and Scorsese went home empty handed for his efforts.

The actual boxing scenes don't take up a large amount of the film's time, but they're impeccably crafted by someone who was never really big into sports. The fight choreography is interesting and believable, and the myriad stylistic touches like the ring shrinking or growing based on LaMotta's psychology or the way everything goes wonky when he allows himself to get pummeled by Sugar Ray Robinson add a lot to it. Outside the ring the film is just as good, refusing to sugarcoat LaMotta's horrible treatment of his family and ignorance of correct social behavior but somehow making him sympathetic by doing so. He seems like a real person as much as anyone in a movie ever has, and along with everything else the movie is never an engrossing watch. You feel his frustration when he has to play along with the mob to get a title shot and his pure anger when he's imprisoned for something he didn't even think was a crime. Just as good as character studies get. Possibly my favorite Scorsese film I've yet seen.

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