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‘Raging Bull’: Robert De Niro & Martin Scorsese Effort Is Most Overrated US Movie?

Raging Bull Robert De Niro Jake LaMottaRaging Bull: Robert De Niro as the ‘fat’ Jake LaMotta in what’s probably the most admired American movie of the 1980s.

‘Raging Bull’: Robert De Niro & Martin Scorsese back in the ring in the U.K.

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

“In the autumn of 1980, Martin Scorsese arranged a preview on the Paramount lot of his latest film, a drama about prize fighter Jake LaMotta,” writes The Guardian‘s Ryan Gilbey in anticipation of the Aug. 17 rerelease of the widely acclaimed 1980 Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro collaboration Raging Bull. “Afterwards cinematographer Michael Chapman and Paul Schrader, one of two credited writers on the film, strolled out to the car park and mulled over what they had just seen. ‘Wow,’ said Chapman after a while. ‘Marty really fucked that one up, didn’t he?’ Schrader drew a breath. ‘Yeah,’ he agreed. ‘I don’t know what went wrong there.’

“The following year, Raging Bull won two Oscars, having been nominated for eight. [The big winner that year was Robert Redford’s Ordinary People.] The American Film Institute recently voted it the fourth greatest US film of all time, just behind Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca. Robert De Niro’s ferocious portrayal of LaMotta is widely considered to be a benchmark in the history of screen performances, not to mention a textbook lesson in how method actors will go that extra mile – or, in the case of De Niro, who prepared for scenes as the overweight LaMotta by embarking on a culinary tour of Italy, several thousand extra miles. And yet the initial reaction of Chapman and Schrader anticipated the mood among cinemagoers. Despite the esteem in which Raging Bull is now held, its initial release was hardly a cause for widespread celebration.”

‘Raging Bull’: ‘Most overrated American movie ever’?

Actually, Raging Bull wasn’t exactly a box office flop in North America, grossing $23.33 million in the U.S. and Canada according to Box Office Mojo. (October 2013 update: That represents around $70 million today.) Additionally, even though Martin Scorsese’s boxing drama didn’t please every single North American critic out there, it did garner widespread praise, going on to win Best Film honors from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.

Now, I must admit that I share Michael Chapman and Paul Schrader’s initial reaction to Raging Bull. In fact, in my view Raging Bull is perhaps the most overrated American movie of all time.

For starters, I find it both overlong and overwrought, while the much revered slow-motion boxing scenes feel woefully artificial. Sure, Raging Bull is superior to John G. Avildsen and Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky and to most other boxing dramas – but that’s really not saying much.

As for Best Actor Academy Award winner Robert De Niro, his performance in Raging Bull chiefly consists of unintelligible grunts. As far as I’m concerned, Scorsese’s favorite actor (in the director’s pre-Leonardo DiCaprio days, that is) never manages to imbue the brutish Jake LaMotta with the sort of emotional complexity that would make him recognizably human – in other words, someone whose fate should be the viewer’s concern.

Robert De Niro: ‘Dedication to his craft’

In the last few decades, numerous movie pundits have been impressed by Robert De Niro’s dedication to his craft – putting on a couple of tons to play Raging Bull‘s older Jake LaMotta. That in itself is supposed to justify De Niro’s Oscar win.

Now, the same year Raging Bull came out, David Lynch came up with The Elephant Man. Starring John Hurt in the title role, Lynch’s psychological drama showcased its leading man with his face covered in grotesque make-up. Even so, the Oscar-nominated Hurt – acting only with his eyes and voice – fully succeeded in conveying an actual person underneath that monstrous façade. On the other hand, underneath De Niro’s added layers of flab, all I could see was more flab.

The next great Martin Scorsese classic

In case we still have a planet, in ten or twenty years time either Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator or The Departed – or perhaps both – will be considered one (or two) of the greatest movies of the early 21st century. Just wait and see. Not that much unlike Raging Bull, both The Aviator and The Departed are superficial glimpses into the lives and issues of Scorsese’s men – and apparently that’s all a movie needs to be considered a major, lasting classic.

Now, if you want a truly good movie about boxing and boxers, check out Robert Wise’s The Set-Up, a harrowing (screenplay by Art Cohn), beautifully shot (by Milton Krasner) 1949 film noir starring a superb Robert Ryan and a remarkably good Audrey Totter.

Raging Bull Robert De Niro as Jake LaMotta photo: United Artists.

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Kevin McDonough -

It’s not a great movie, no. It’s brilliantly made, it’s relentlessly veracious, but it’s about a small and stupid man who becomes a small stupid fat man–and that’s it. Never less than compelling, though, it is a superior film and I’ve watched it several times over the years. Taxi Driver is Scorsese’s classic

Kevin Fuller -

Moderate acting the scenes between Pesci and De Niro are incredible. Questionable cinematography? I believe the camera work is subtle which i like but the editing is phenomenal Like when Jake see Vicki at the night club and there is a zoom on her with people in between her i thought it was beautiful. Lets mention the fight with Sugar Ray its not supposed to look like a regular boxing match but represent the way Jake perceived the impending doom he was about to receive Sugar Ray.

Stuart -

I just watched it again. I watch it every ten years to see if I can finally feel that is worthy of the praise it receives. Unfortunately – I am left with the same feeling as always. Moderately good acting, weak story, questionable cinematography. The movie is a 5 out of 10 at best.

martin fennell -

Thank God. Someone has finally said this. I don’t think it’s a terrible movie, but definetly overrated. It’s quiet a boring movie actually. I remember seeing it the cinema when it came out , and thinking the only thing I liked about it was Joe Pesci’s performance.
People complain that It should have won best film over Ordinary People.
Well, while I think People is a better movie, I would have given the oscar to The Elephant man.
I also agree on The-set up.

Michael Chrismtan -

Raging Bull is not overrated, it’s a masterpiece of filmmaking. It’s arguably Scorsese’s finest film and one of the greatest movies ever made. There is not one aspect I could say isn’t exceptionally and masterfully done in RB. It’s a phenomenal movie, a brilliant character study on a flawed protagonist struggling with jealousy and insecurity. I don’t know how anyone can find the movie boring, maybe someone who thinks superhero and action movies are peak cinema.

Doug McKeown -

Delighted with your concluding paragraph! The Set-Up is indeed a truly good film, all hands, the only boxing movie I ever cared for.

Garlynne -

This review is so poorly biased that it brings Ad hominem to a puerile and immature level. I’m surprised this reviewer isn’t female due to the supercilious and snot-nose attitude it has against a timeless classic as Raging bull. Andre Soares, your critique skills are inferior and lack the coherence of understanding film making necessary to deliver a well codified review. Everything you spew from out of your feeble arguments is entirely subjective. If you would rather watch whiny middle class people argue, groan and whine while hearing Canon in D minor in the background, I see your sense of entertainment is indicative that you have a deranged and fragile ego.

Akash Vijay -

You absolutely missed everything the film was trying to convey. How about you actually pay attention the next time. Raging Bull remains to this day the most powerful portrayal of jealously ever to be put up on the big screen. A film like the Godfather is what’s overrated. It doesn’t even hold a candle to the poetry of Raging Bull.

Michael Chrismtan -

The Godfather is not overrated, it is a masterpiece. Watch the film again, the movie is absolutely brilliant and flawless. It’s rightfully called one of the best, if not the greatest ever movie(s) made.

terry -

your criticism of De Niro is ridiculous. He fully embodies Jake LaMotta. You’re lying if you say when you look into his eyes you don’t see LaMotta. This is a truly great film

John Kerr -

AGREE AGREE AGREE!!!!!!!! Repellent film about repellent people, albeit w/a few good performances. Scorsese hangs his “awareness” of past films & film technique like a funeral director hanging crepe.

Matt -

I have watched the film not “movie” Suse. Just stick to what you know yeah? De Niro won the academy award for a reason and it’s not to be criticized, especially by someone like you.

Andre -

Not that I’d wanna take credit away from anyone, but I do believe that “Susie” was telling ME to watch the movie again.

Susie -

Maybe you actually should watch the movie next time.

Matt -

A terrific film, your review is one sided and nothing more than a opinion shared by very few people, if you made a assessment a real assessment then you’ll agree that Raging Bull is not a film to be judged in such a critical way that in no way has reflection on the true brilliance of the film. Not much of a critic.


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