Beginning in 1964, where an older and fatter Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro) practices his stand-up comic routine, we are transported back in time to his boxing career in 1941 against his opponent, Jimmy Reeves, in the infamous Cleveland bout. Losing the fight by a fixed result causes a fight to break out at the end of the match. His brother Joey (Joe Pesci) is not only a sparring partner to him but also responsible for organizing his fights. Joey discusses a potential shot for the title with one of his mob connections, Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent), on the way to his brother's house. When they are finally settled in the house, Jake admits that he doesn't have much faith in his own abilities. Accompanied by his brother to the local open-air swimming pool, a restless Jake spots a 15-year-old girl named Vikki at the edge of the pool (Cathy Moriarty). Although he has to be reminded by his brother he is already married, the opportunity to invite her out for the day becomes a possibility thanks to his brother.
Jake has two fights with Sugar Ray Robinson, set two years apart, and Jake loses the second when the judges rule in favour of Sugar Ray because he was leaving the sport temporarily for army conscription. This does not deter Jake from winning six straight fights, but as his fears grow about his wife, Vikki, having feelings for other men, particularly Janeiro, the opponent for his forthcoming fight, he is keen enough to show off his sexual jealously when he beats him in front of the local Mob boss, Tommy Como (Nicholas Colosanto) and Vikki. The recent triumph over Janeiro is touted as a major boost for the belt as Joey discusses this with journalists, though Joey is briefly distracted by seeing Vickie approach a table with Salvy and his crew. Joey has a word with Vickie, who says she is giving up on his brother. Blaming Salvy, Joey viciously attacks him in a fight that spills outside of the club. When Tommy Como hears that the two of them rose fists in a public place, he orders them to apologize and tells Joey that he means business. At the swimming pool, Joey tells Jake that if he really wants a shot, he will have to take a dive first. The fight against Fox is a shambles as Jake does not even bother to put up a fight. Jake is suspended from the board on suspicion of throwing the fight, though he realises the error of his judgment when it is too late. This does little to harm his career, when he finally wins the title against Marcel Cerdan at the open-air Biggs stadium.
Three years have passed, when we see Jake fixing his television. He asks his brother if he fought with Salvy at the Copca because of Vikki. Jake then asks if Joey had an affair with his wife. Joey takes offense, and doesn't answer him. Then Joey storms out. While interrogating his wife about the affair she sarcastically states that she had sex with the entire neighborhood (including his brother, Salvy and Tommy Como). Jake takes this seriously and runs to his brother's house where he starts to fight Joey. Defending his championship belt against Dautbuille, he makes a call to his brother after the fight, but when Joey assumes Salvy is on the other end, Jake says nothing. This drags Jake down to when he eventually loses to Sugar Ray Robinson on their final encounter.
A couple of years later, in the middle of a photo shoot, Jake LaMotta surrounded by his wife and children, tells the journalists he is offically retired and that he has bought a new property. After staying all night at his new night club, Vikki tells him she wants a divorce (which she has been planning since his retirement). Arrested for introducing under-age girls (posing as 21-year-olds) to men, he serves a jail sentence after failing to raise the bail money. Returning to New York, he meets up with his estranged brother in a car park where they share a nervous hug.
Going back to the beginning sequence, Jake refers to the "I shouda have been a contender" scene from On The Waterfront complaining that his brother should have been there for him but is also keen enough to give himself some slack. Darting across the room at the information of the crowded auditorium by the stage hand, the camera remains pivoted on the mirror. The film ends on an ambiguous note with a biblical quote and a dedication to the director's film mentor at New York University, Haig P. Moonigan, who died of a heart attack before the film was released.
|Robert De Niro||Jake LaMotta|
|Cathy Moriarty||Vikki Thailer LaMotta|
|Joe Pesci||Joey LaMotta|
|Frank Vincent||Salvy "Batts"|
|Nicholas Colasanto||Tommy Como|
|Theresa Saldana||Lenora LaMotta (Joey's wife)|
A trademark of Martin Scorsese was casting many actors and actresses new to the profession, which on this occassion there would be no exception. Robert DeNiro, who was already committed to play Jake LaMotta, began to get unfamiliar names to play his on-screen brother, Joey and wife, Vikki. The role of Joey LaMotta was the first to be cast. Robert DeNiro was watching a low budget tv film called The Death Collector when he saw the part of a young career criminal played by Joe Pesci (then an unknown and struggling actor) as an ideal candidate. When Pesci received the call from Robert DeNiro and Martin Scorsese for the proposal to star in the film, he had not worked in eight years (now running an Italian restaurant in New Jersey), claiming that it must be a good role to justify the means. Pesci accepted the role with little fuss. The role of Vickie LaMotta, Jake's wife, would have much interest across the board, but it was Pesci who suggested the actress, Cathy Moriaty, from a picture he once saw at a New Jersey disco. Both DeNiro and Scorsese from meeting her on several occassions that her husky voice and maturity would be perfect but they had to prove to the screen actors guild that she was right for the role when Cis Corman showed 10 comparing pictures of both Cathy Moriaty and the real Vickie LaMotta for proof she had a resemblance. Moriaty was then asked to take a screen test which she managed - partly aided with some improvised lines from DeNiro - after some confusion wondering why the crew were filming her take. Joe Pesci also persuaded his former show-biz pal and co-star in The Death Collector, Frank Vincent to try for the role of Salvy Batts. Following a successful audition and screen test, the relative newcomer Frank Vincent received the call to say he had won the part. Even, the director's father, Charles Scorsese made his film debut as Tommy Como's cousin, Charlie.
The film began shooting at a Los Angeles warehouse in April 1979.
The warehouse was to replicate the Madison Square Garden venue in New York in the first of many boxing scenes to be completed first. Wanting to get as close to the action, one camera operated by the director of photography, Michael Chapman would be placed inside the ring as he would play the role of an opponent keeping out of the way of other fighters as their emotions would be filmed. The precise moves of the boxers would be done as dance routines from the information of a book about dance instructors in the mode of Arthur Murray. A punching bag was also used by DeNiro between takes. The initial five week schedule for the shooting of the boxing scenes took longer than expected, putting the still weak Scorsese under pressure. According to Martin Scorsese, production of the film was then closed down for around four months with the entire crew being paid in the mean time, so DeNiro could go on a binge eating trip around Northern Italy. When he did come back to the United States, his weight blew up from 145 up to 215 pounds. The scenes with the fatter Jake LaMotta - which include announcing his retirement from boxing and LaMotta ending up in a Florida cell - were done approaching Christmas 1979within seven to eight weeks so as not to aggravate the health issues which were already affecting DeNiro's posture, breathing, and talking. The final sequence where we see Jake LaMotta sitting in front of his mirror was filmed on the last day of shooting taking nineteen takes with only the thirteenth one being used for the film. Scorsese wanted to have an atmosphere would be so cold that the words would have an impact as he tries to come to terms with himself and his relationship with his brother.
The editing of Raging Bull was done during most of 1980. The cutting room floor proved to the place where the final cut of the film would be done. Scorsese worked with the editor, Thelma Schoonmaker to ditch Schrader idea's of LaMotta's nightclub act intervening with the "flashback" of his youth and instead just follow along the lines of a single flashback where only scenes of LaMotta practicing his stand-up would be left "bookending" the film. A sound mix arranged by Frank Warner took six months to perfect. A test screening in front of a small audience including the chief executives, Steve Bach and Arthur Alberk was show at the MGM screening room in New York around July 1980. Alberk praised Scorsese by calling him a "true artist". According to the producer, Irwin Winkler, matters were made worse when United Artists didn't even want to distribute the film but nobody was interested when they tried to sell the rights. Scorsese made no secret that Raging Bull would be his Hollywood swan song taking unusual care during post-production. This caused some friction with the producer, Irwin Winkler, who accused Scorsese of doing the editing process "inch by inch". Scorsese threatened to remove his credit from the film if he was not allowed to sort a reel which obscured the name of a whisky brand which was heard in a scene. The work was only completed four days shy of the premiere.
Overall, the uncomfortable setting of violence and anger struggled to capativate audiences (for the exception of the "art-house" audiences in New York) while being supported by a poor advertising campaign saw the film become a flop at the box office. Scorsese became concerned for his future career that the failure of Raging Bull would mean producers and studios would refuse to finance his films.
Real acclaim for Raging Bull came when the film was nominated for eight Academy Awards (Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Sound and Editing) at the 1980 Academy Awards. However the events surrounding John Hinckley Jnr's assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan trying to impress Jodie Foster the way that the character, Travis Bickle put his life on the line in the film Taxi Driver hurt the film's chances on the big night. For a fear he would be attacked, Scorsese went to the ceremony with FBI bodyguards disguised as guests which escorted him out before the announcement of the Best Picture Oscar to say that Ordinary People had won the Oscar. Nevertheless, the film managed to pick up only two oscars - Best Actor (DeNiro) and Best Editing (Schoonmaker). Robert DeNiro's acceptance speech thanked the real Jake LaMotta for his support "even though he is suing us".
The film was better received at many other film festivals winning best picture and best actor (DeNiro) by the Los Angeles Film Association; best actor (DeNiro) and best supporting actor (Pesci) by the National Board of Review; best actor (DeNiro) by the Golden Globes and National Board of Review and best cinematography (Chapman) by the National Society of Film Critics. The Berlin Film Festival chose Raging Bull to open the festival in 1981.
The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry. Originally, the American Film Institute ranked Raging Bull 24th of the greatest American movies of all time. However, when the list was updated 10 years later, Raging Bull rose twenty places on the list, reaching #4. and fifth on the Entertainment Weekly's 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. The 2002 Sight and Sound Poll found listed tied for 6th with The Bicycle Thief. The movie poster was painted by Kunio Hagio. In 2002, Channel 4 held a poll of the 100 Greatest Movies,on which Raging Bull was voted in at number 20. Halliwell Film Guide, a highly respected British film guide, had a poll naming their Top 1000 movies. Raging Bull was placed #7.
In June 2008, AFI revealed its "Ten top Ten"—the best ten films in ten "classic" American film genres—after polling over 1,500 people from the creative community. Raging Bull was acknowledged as the best film in the sports genre.