‘Raging Bull’: Knockout or big whiff?

Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980)

Raging Bull (1980)

Directed by Martin Scorsese

7.5/10  R

Raise your hand if you’re surprised when Martin Scorsese drags a movie out a half-hour longer than it needs to be. Yeah, me neither. “Raging Bull” is a bruising, unapologetic black and white picture of a troubled boxer, Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro). Unlike “Rocky” four years prior, “Raging Bull” isn’t what I would call a boxing movie, but rather a drama about a guy that happens to be a boxer. A rather insignificant amount of its 2 hours and 10 minutes actually shows Jake in the ring. It’s a classic, obviously, but that doesn’t mean it’s flawless.

Jake, like his close brother Joey (Joe Pesci), has anger issues. They have notoriously short fuses. But they’re fictional Italian-American men living in 1940s Bronx, New York – what do you expect? Anyway, like “Goodfellas” ten years later, Scorsese gives us a broad picture of Jake’s life, from the onset of his professional boxing slump to the middle of his personal decline. His boxing matches, his marriage to a girl half his age (Cathy Moriarty), and his family drama are all fair game. Nothing’s below the belt in Scorsese’s brutally honest picture.

Robert De Niro in Raging Bull (1980)

With “Grudge Match” – a Christmas-release about two old boxers (Stallone and De Niro, Rocky and Raging Bull) coming together for a final fight – fast approaching, I thought it was time this film buff finally saw one of Scorsese’s early hits. I was disappointed if I’m being honest. The romance takes a while to develop, and even at the best of times, I wasn’t convinced of the couple’s chemistry. Taking the focus away from boxing is fine, but with so little time devoted to in-ring fighting, I found it difficult to even see the connection. I liked “Rocky” and “The Fighter” better – they’re both only ten minutes shorter, but they left me wanting more. I was hoping “Raging Bull” would end after an hour.

Scorsese gives us a couple emotional scenes performed with uncontrollable, yet graceful, rage, but they don’t make up for the first 100 minutes. It’s just slow and, frankly, boring. Long movies can be great – “Catching Fire” was 20 minutes longer and left me wanting even more – but “Raging Bull” filled too much of its time with silence and irrelevant dialogue.

Scorsese knows how to make a long, overcompensating picture. Sometimes it works, but “Raging Bull” just didn’t hold my interest. It’s well-made, but not necessarily enjoyable or particularly entertaining. For the viewer like me, I wouldn’t try it.

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