1980 saw the release of not only one of the best sports films ever made, but one of the best ever films of all time in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull.
It saw the forth collaboration between its director and its star Robert De Niro, which has continued ever since, with the current tally being nine films to date.
With its 4K restoration, 43 years on, it’s the perfect time to get back in the ring with this brute of a film and see if it still has what it takes to go the distance.
It’s the early 1940’s and there’s a young boxer on the scene, making plenty of waves, Jake LaMotta (De Niro). He’s on course for a big money title fight, but is knocked back after a rare loss.
His brother Joey (Joe Pesci) has a few words with some friends of his, who may have something to do with organised crime, who may be able to help out on the title fight front, but Jake flat out refuses to go down that road.
Jake is like an animal in the ring, hence the nickname given to him the ‘raging bull’, but he’s looking for something relaxed and domesticated outside of it, and thinks he finds it with the young Vicki (Cathy Moriarty).
Despite getting married, settling down and having kids, the rage inside Jake doesn’t go away, with it possibly getting the better of him and losing everything he’s fought for.
There’s a reason that films labelled classics remain so over the years, as their class really does shine through.
Scorsese had already made a number of films early on in his career, including 1973’s Mean Streets and 1976’s Taxi Driver. But his biopic of the real life boxer LaMotta was certainly his most ambitious.
The director decided to film it in black and white - except for some colourful family home made film footage that sharply interjects at one point in the film - which isn’t the stuff that blockbusters are made of.
And as if that wasn’t enough to put audiences off, the film was given a notorious ‘X’ rating, which was a kiss of death for most films. The X was clearly given for the brutal representation of two men fighting in a ring. Even to this day, even with the Rocky franchise, has there been a more brutal and visceral depiction of professional boxing on screen. And even though it's over forty years old, those scenes still pack a powerful punch to the gut.
But boxing is only an aside to the story, with LaMotta’s life taking centre stage. It is a remarkable performance given by De Niro, for which he quite rightly won the Best Actor Oscar for that year, which saw him transform in more ways than one. Not only did we witness the monster inside of him take over, but also physically changing, increasing his weight from 145 to 215 pounds. It was this kind of dedication to his craft that cemented his status as a method actor of some repute.
It’s easy for other performances to be overshadowed, but nothing should be taken away from Joe Pesci’s first major role on screen, as the caring brother. His Joey proves that the hot temper could be a gene shared with his brother, as it can on occasion erupt with the same kind of intensity.
And there’s Moriarty too, in her debut role, who has to contend with both De Niro and Pesci in the same scenes, and still manage to come out of it with her young head held high.
Looking back at it now, it still remains a remarkable achievement by Scorsese, who clearly had a vision and was determined to stick with it, regardless of any outside interference.
It is no wonder then that it is often cited as one of the genuine greats, with the American Film Institute ranking it fourth in the list of best films of all time, just behind Casablanca, The Godfather, and Citizen Kane in ascending order, which isn’t bad company to keep.
The greatest boxing film of all time? Surely. One of the greatest films of all time? Certainly. So if a little ring rust has set in, or even better, you’ve never gone head to head with it before, then there’s no better time than with this stunning 4K restoration, to take on the formidable Raging Bull.