There are certain films that raise the bar for film in general. ‘The Godfather’ raised the bar for engrossing stories. Most recently, ‘Avatar’ raised the bar for special effects. Robert De Niro set the gold standard for acting in ‘Raging Bull.’
What he did for this film goes far and beyond what anyone else had ever done for a role. De Niro literally got in boxing shape for the early part of his career (Jake La Motta trained him himself), and then put on 60 lbs to play the latter part of his life. Well done. But to leave it at that would be to do a disservice to the man. De Niro exudes La Motta in every scene. He’s a man constantly on edge, suspicious of everyone and having to restrain his temper nearly all the time. I would go so far as to say that when one says ‘Jake La Motta,’ one thinks of Robert De Niro before thinking of the man himself. That’s quite a feat.
On top of all that, the film is not limited to De Niro’s performance, though he’s in nearly every scene. His brother Joey (Joe Pesci) isn’t quite as temperamental as Jake, but he does lose his head from time to time. His girlfriend/wife (Cathy Moriarty) is about as sultry as they come. She’s a good complement to De Niro’s over-the-top jealousy and possessiveness. She won’t put up with his rage.
Oh, and did I mention that this is director Martin Scorsese’s best directing job? The man knows how to simultaneously give something a classic look, an exciting feel, a deliberate tone, but knows when to let his direction take a back seat to De Niro’s performance. Well done.+4