Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Paul Schrader & Mardik Martin
I feel like every time I sit down to write a movie review following a viewing of a Scorsese film that I am starting it by talking about the inseparable link between Marty and Bobby, Scorsese and De Niro, but it’s true. And maybe I feel like this is a more frequent occurrence than it really is because they are both masters, which stick in my mind much more than the many other reviews I have written even in the past 6 months. But the two once again team up for this 1980 sports drama chronicling the life of real life boxer Jake LaMotta.
LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is an up and coming star in the boxing ring in 1940s New York. He is managed by his brother Joey (Joe Pesci), and he is in dire need of some managing because, while he is a great talent in the boxing world, he has trouble quelling his temper in and out of the ring. He even goes so far as to basically throw a few matches because his ego gets to him. But this is more of a tale of what Jake does out of the ring. He quickly falls for and marries the beautiful Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), but soon their loves comes crashing down like a house of cards thanks to Jake’s short temper and penchant for jealousy. Meanwhile he climbs the world of boxing, facing off in epic battles with legend Sugar Ray Robinson.
What immediately strikes the view is the black and white cinematography, a much out of date technique come 1980 when the film was produced, yet Scorsese, and director of photography Michael Chapman, make the choice and it really pays off, producing not only a memorable experience for the picture, but also some very interesting images. The mystique of the character of LaMotta and of the era in which boxing was king are both highlighted with the dramatic effect of the black and white as well as the lighting. But what really brings these fantastic images all together is the editing, which is perfect during the fight scenes, creating a surreal effect that, oddly, makes you feel like you are right there sitting ringside.
The cast is also quite good here, lead by, of course, Robert De Niro as Jake. His performance really takes what I felt was an average script and creates a compelling character study alongside director Martin Scorsese. Jake LaMotta is a disturbed, troubled individual and it is fascinating just spending time with him because you never quite know what is going to happen. His relationship with his brother, played by Joe Pesci, who delivers the best, and most grounded performance I have seen by him, as well as Jake’s romantic relationship with Vickie are heartbreaking given the talent of this great athlete. But is a syndrome we have seen before with the massively talented struggling with the social aspect of life.
To this point I would have to go against what I perceive to be the consensus on Scorsese and say that I prefer his more recent outings to his older, more classic films, at least from an entertainment stand point. I have no problem proclaiming films such as this and Taxi Driver remarkable achievements both technically and in terms of creating a narrative which is able to explore the intricacies of character such as those two. However, I somehow struggle to be entertained all the way through by them like I was by Shutter Island, The Aviator and The Departed. It is a strange sensation to be able to call Taxi Driver and Raging Bull better crafted films, yet the less entertaining, but there it is. I said it.