Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1980. Chartoff-Winkler Productions. Screenplay by Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin, based on the book by Jake LaMotta, Joseph Carter, Peter Savage. Cinematography by Michael Chapman. Produced by Robert Chartoff, Irwin Winkler. Production Design by Phil Abramson, Frederic C. Weiler. Costume Design by John Boxer, Richard Bruno. Film Editing by Thelma Schoonmaker. Academy Awards 1980. Golden Globe Awards 1980.
Regarded by many as the jewel in Martin Scorsese’s crown, this is one of the best films ever made about boxing, right up there with Body And Soul. Robert De Niro plays real-life pugilist Jake La Motta, who enjoyed great success as a young boxer only to be hampered by personal problems and plunge into failure before making his way back to the top again. Cathy Moriarty makes a terrific debut as LaMotta’s young wife, while Joe Pesci steals scenes as LaMotta’s put-upon brother, but the whole show belongs to DeNiro and his stunning transformation. Although the performance rests on a few too many trick-pony cliches for an Oscar-winning role (the weight gain, etc.), there’s real fire underneath De Niro’s delivery and an incredible charisma that carries the picture. The rest of it relies on the strength of Scorsese’s unfaltering direction and the seamless editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, who deservedly won an Oscar (as did De Niro) for her efforts. For fans of trivia, a young Sharon Stone auditioned for Moriarty’s role but didn’t get it, then fifteen years later earned her first Oscar nomination for playing De Niro’s wife in another Scorsese film, Casino, and then four years after that co-starred with Moriarty in Gloria (the original of which was made the same year as Raging Bull, starring Gena Rowlands, with whom Stone co-starred in The Mighty).