"Raging Bull" is without question one of my all-time favorite films. The movie is the story of former World Middleweight Champion Jake La Motta. Unlike today's sports biopics, "Raging Bull" was a true-to-life story of the colorful former champ.
Calling La Motta "colorful" is kind of like calling Michael Jackson "different." The truth is that La Motta was a raging bull both in and out of the ring, and the character portrayed by the incomparable Robert DeNiro is spot on. In fact, I am confident writing that very sentence because of a chance encounter that I personally had with the former champ in 1998. While polishing off one of what I assume was many beers in a midtown Manhattan lounge, I notice an older gentleman signing autographs at a corner table. The bartender told me who he was and I was on the case! Upon introducing myself, I mentioned what a fan I was of the film and the grisly old fighter invited me to sit with him and his guest. We talked for nearly an hour about the film, his career, his battles with the great Sugar Ray Robinson and just how wonderful it truly is to be Italian. (Never underestimate the bond between our people!)
During our discussion, La Motta told me how well DeNiro played his likeness and praised him for his natural abilities as a fighter. According to La Motta, DeNiro had all the tools to be a world class fighter and proclaimed it was all due to his coaching of the actor during filming. I couldn't help but ask if the role was authentic and he concurred. While La Motta was certainly a little long in the tooth by 1998, he still exuded a certain air of cockiness that only comes from a guy that knows he is one tough son of bitch!
That's enough with my personal experience - on to the film. The story tells the life of La Motta as he climbs through the ranks to become the Middleweight Champion. However, the film is more than just a story of boxing success, it details his combustible life as nothing short of a raging lunatic at times. Through his trial and tribulations, La Motta reaches the top of his weight class only to take a dive in one of the most memorable title fights in boxing lore. Despite his agreement to throw the fight, La Motta refuses to hit the canvas and is simply bludgeouned by Robinson before the fight is finally stopped. La Motta recovers from the beating and subsequent suspension from the ring to win the Middleweight crown, and his legend will forever be cemented as one of the original "warriors" of the ring - a term that is so meaninglessly tossed about today.
Perhaps the most gripping aspect of the film is not La Motta's succes and failures in the ring, but his personal battles. La Motta is an abusive, jealous husband with a violent temper and fondness for other women. As his success in the ring mounts, his personal life falters and is eventually destroyed. La Motta's wife, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), is not the only person to feel his wrath; his brother, Joey (Joe Pesce), is another central figure in the film who routinely squares off with the prize fighter.
Director Martin Scorsese has brought us some incredible films over the past three decades, but "Raging Bull" may be his greatest achievement ever, in my opinion. The film also introduced the world to one of the best tandems to share the big screen in recent years - DeNiro and Pesce. This 1980 film is well decorated with two Academy Awards (including DeNiro for Best Actor) and 10 other Nominations, and today CoolFilmz.com proudly adds our little nugget of achievement with an "ACE."
Sam Minardi is a writer based in Charleston, W.Va and is your host and moderator of Sports Films on CFz.