*Note: I wrote this a while back and held off on posting it, but with EW.com's release of the 25 Best Biopics Ever -- and subsequent placing of this film at No. 1 -- I couldn't stop myself.
(Pic found at this site)
JOEY: Psst. You know we got everybody fooled, right?
JAKE: Whatchutalkin' 'bout we got everybody fooled?
JOEY: Ya know, how everyone thinks we're in this all-time great movie?
Yeah, that's right. Raging Bull -- a.k.a. the American Film Institute's fourth-best movie ever made, a.k.a. one of Time's 100 greatest, a.k.a. the No. 6 movie in the Sight & Sound Directors' Top Ten, a.k.a that top-ranked biopic, etc., etc. -- ain't all it's cracked up to be.
Now, there's a saying about Shakespeare that he has to be overrated because he can't possibly underrated -- and that kind of applies here. Seriously, Google "raging bull" and overrated and read the comment under the link with "DVD Talk Forum."
Yeah, so treading on Raging Bull is trampling sacred ground.
But that doesn't mean we're dubbing Martin Scorsese's legendary film "bad." Its craft -- especially the editing of those boxing scenes -- is, of course, impeccable. Robert De Niro's performance as enraged boxer Jake LaMotta ... well, I wouldn't be the first to say it's very, very good. Joe Pesci (as LaMotta's long-suffering brother) and Cathy Moriarty (LaMotta's long-suffering wife) are fine, too.
Still ... exceptional filmmaking/acting don't make for an exceptional film. There's the little issue of story, and Raging Bull's goes something like this:
-LaMotta starts out an a-hole.
-He surrounds himself with a-holes.
-He becomes a successful boxer ... but an even bigger a-hole.
-His a-holeness catches up with him, so he ends up a fat, outcast a-hole.
Now, it's a character study, meaning plot is secondary. Fine. But character studies need arcs to make them compelling*. Not every protagonist must be a saint, or even likable. But there's gotta be something there, some sort of conflict -- and endlessly running around saying "Did you [bleep] my wife?" doesn't count.
*Even the dull Capote had a considerable character arc.
That's what keeps Raging Bull from reaching the heights of another character-driven Scorsese flick, Taxi Driver. Neither features lovable protagonists, but Travis Bickle's slip into insanity is far more gripping, IMO, than the simple tale of a jerk staying a jerk.
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