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Late To The Party: Raging Bull

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Biopics are a huge source of internal conflict for me. While a large proportion of them are great films (at least comparative to other genres), I still don’t consider myself a fan. Firstly when the person is so iconic, such as Abraham Lincoln, it’s hard for me to remain invested in a plot I know the outcome of. I was never on the edge of my seat waiting to see if slavery was abolished or not when I went to see Lincoln. Also, some bio-pics are guilty of glorifying their namesakes and fail in giving a sufficiently unbiased portrayal. So, for me at least, biopics work best when they feature less iconic people (Oskar Schindler for example) and/or when they present their protagonist in as honest a light as possible (Billy Hayes from Midnight Express). With that being said, Raging Bull, the tragic life story of the vicious middle-weight boxer Jake La Motta, is undoubtedly my favourite biopic of all time.

Directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Robert De Niro (who won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance), the film showcases both their talents at their very best. Scorsese does a fantastic job and its one of the clearest examples I have ever seen of a director bringing all of the resources and talents he has at his disposal to the table to make a film the best it can be. In my opinion it is nothing short of disgraceful that he did not win the Oscar for Best Director for this fantastic piece of work. The theme of family is once again very present through the movie and it is family – not grit, violence or organised crime – that I feel is the most distinctive characteristic in his work. The subtle differences in each of the in-ring contests, the ominous pacing of each of La Motta’s domestic conflicts and countless other nuances are text book examples of profound brilliance.

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However, when you walk away from this film there’s one man’s work which burns deepest in your mind and that is Robert De Niro. De Niro transforms himself both mentally and physically into the degenerative fighter, equally capable of awe-inspiring sporting triumphs and contempt-inspiring behaviour. During each stage of the film his appearance and temperament change drastically ranging from a lean and destructive fighter to a plump and pathetic clown. The real heart of his performance lies in the honesty he brings to the role; he may show La Motta in a negative light but it never seems artificial. This key element is why we still feel sympathy towards La Motta’s destruction even though it was self-inflicted. A film that embodies the artistic appeal of tragedy, Raging Bull is a film which will stay with you forever.

Film Rating: 9/10

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