Verdict: Soz I just don’t get it.
This 1980 black and white De Niro/Scorsese mash up always hits pretty high in the ranks of ‘best films of all time’, but it was only recently that someone finally said the immortal words “I can’t believe you’ve never seen Raging Bull!” and so, of course, unfortunately for me, it had to be done.
When I was once instructed to read This Sporting Life by David Storey I had grumbled and groaned about having zero interest in rugby league and even less interest in an entire novel about someone engrossed in the sport. And yet I managed to force my way through it and even found, to my surprise, that by the end I was actually enjoying myself.
Unfortunately, rather the opposite happened this time.
I cannot pretend to have ever properly experienced boxing; I have never watched any of it, I know little or nothing about the sport (except d’punchin’) but I was still ready to climb aboard. To start with I even found it fairly enjoyable.
The famous “hit me” scene was well shot, and somehow very characterising, as much as a scene where two brothers punch each other can be. Unfortunately, my non-interest in most things sport-related caught up with me and I was fair bored to tears with boxing by the end of it.
I know, I know, for a film about boxing, you’d think I would have been more prepared to watch some of it. In reading about the conception of the film, Scorsese reliably reminded me that the ring becomes “an allegory for his life”. Unfortunately his life was pretty boring too.
When not in the ring, Jake LaMotte apparently likes to spend most of his time picking up 15 year olds from the local pool, raging at and beating on woman, arguing with his brother, and calling everyone a cocksucker. Incidentally, I learnt more watching this film about the entrenched and always-explicit use of homophobic language than I did about boxing. Everyone is at it, apparently.
Things I can appreciate: The literal sweat and blood that went into the film. Not only did Scorsese apparently u-turn down the path of self-destruction to make the film at de Niro’s request, but Robert himself lived, breathed, trained (and later ate) his way into the role too.
Not content just with just extensive training in boxing, de Niro reportedly entered three Bronx fights and won two out of the three in the run up to production. Instead of merely ~acting~~, de Niro also moved in with his on screen brother Joe Pesci, in order to “achieve the feeling of brotherhood”, and unlike most real brothers they’re still BFFs to this day. Which is pretty sweet you can’t deny aww.
The part I found most interesting about the entire film was the famed weight gain. According to ‘fings wot i read’ (which I should probably source if I weren’t a lazy film student on a day off), de Niro force-fed himself during several months of scheduled break in filming, and gained a record breaking 60 pounds. His particular method of weight gain was supposedly to gorge on pasta and vanilla milkshakes, which I can admire in a person.
Overall, I still have no clearer idea as to why some people find two guys punching each other in the face all that entertaining, but maybe that’s always going to be me. I have even less idea as to why Robert de Niro nearly killed himself through training and weight-gain to tell us the depressing story of Jake LaMotte destroying himself through his own meglomania. Though of course I cannot deny the fact that this film is often highly ranked, and commonly cited as “the best sports film of all time” (- my manager at work), so just because I prefer a good game of table tennis to a punch in the head, by all means, *boxing pun omitted*.