I Coulda Been a Contender

Day 31.

So Raging Bull is another one of those movies I felt obligated to watch since one of my film professors (among other people) considers it a classic that film students should watch. I saw the film in a park at a free outdoor screening (one of many great summer events in NYC). As a Robert De Niro fan, I was surprised that I thought the movie was just okay and tried to blame the location of the screening for my lackluster feeling about the movie. However, after re-watching some of the film at home, I realized that issues I had with the movie, like difficulty hearing the sound, were not because of the venue, but intentional on director Martin Scorsese‘s part. (Side note: I spelled his name correctly without googling it!)

Raging Bull is a biopic about boxer Jake La Motta, focusing on his self-destructive behavior and paranoia. Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci are superb and effortless as Jake and Joey, two Italian brothers from the Bronx. Their relationship felt authentic and I loved their loud and humorous banter, which is curse-laden, but still relatable, especially to people, like myself, who have siblings.

One of the film’s biggest advantages is that it doesn’t try to make the viewer pity LaMotta; we are simply presented with his life. His crippling paranoia is expertly captured in the scene where he asks Joey if he had an affair with his wife, Vickie. In another scene the camera pans over to show a good deal of blood dripping from the ropes of the boxing ring. Scenes such as this do a fantastic job of showing, instead of telling, how stubborn and self-destructive LaMotta is. The one time that I actually feel bad for LaMotta is when he is sitting alone in his jail cell. The gorgeous lighting along with the brutal sounds of him banging his head against the stone wall make this scene fantastic. It is at this point that I realized that LaMotta had a serious problem and couldn’t seem to end his self-destructive ways.

Despite these highlights, it was only after my second viewing that I was able to understand the plot better and appreciate Scorsese‘s stylistic choices. His use of “Intermezzo,” a classical song  from the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, is amazing in both the film’s opening and the montage of Jake and Joey’s marriages (That song is now on repeat on my iPod).  The sound bridges are also genius in this film. My favorite is when the sounds of cameras flashing effortlessly dissolve into television static. However, for a good portion of my first viewing of the film I was slightly unsure of what was going on. The switching back and forth in time was confusing and the low sound in a few scenes made the story hard to follow. Because of this I missed key points like his dealings with the mafia and the fixed fight. I also initially thought that the not quite sex scene with Vickie and Jake was on their first date thanks to the puzzling switches in time.

Which brings me to Vickie. Cathy Moriarty gives a good performance, but it is quite ridiculous that she is supposed to be a 15 year-old girl in this movie. She is quick to, I assume, sleep with Jake for a supposedly nice good girl who’s only 15. As for her relationship with LaMotta, I just didn’t get it. He is extremely abusive towards her, both physically and verbally, even in front of others, but she never seems to mind it. Even after he beats her and Joey for an affair that presumably never occurred, she stays with him because she “loves him.” Not only is this a lame excuse, but this isn’t even exhibited in the movie. The role of women in this film is of next to no real importance. We aren’t even granted an explanation of where LaMotta’s first wife disappeared to.

The ending is perfect. De Niro, who is almost unrecognizable as an overweight middle-aged LaMotta, superbly delivers the “I Coulda Been a Contender” speech from On the Waterfront. The quote is definitely fitting for Jake LaMotta’s life, even though I he can only blame himself for the way his life turned out.

While I was able to appreciate some of Martin Scorsese‘s stylistic choices in Raging Bull, others, like the sound, greatly hindered my ability to comprehend large portions of the plot. I didn’t find LaMotta’s story that interesting and most of the movie moved rather slowly. To put it simply, even after re-watching the film, I just didn’t enjoy it that much.

2 thoughts on “I Coulda Been a Contender

  1. There’s no question that black and white movies are the best. I’m writing about Rush Hour next so you can stop complaining. Is Jumping the Broom good?

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