The grand daddy of all wise guy films.
Stick and move, Bobby, stick and move.
Robert DeNiro bobs, weaves, curses, spits and earns a Best Actor Oscar in Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull”, playing prizefighter Jake La Motta.
Released in 1980, it’s a brutal and beautiful film that probably wouldn’t get past the pitch stage today let alone be filmed. I can just see Scorsese at the lunch meeting, on the edge of his chair and spilling salad all over the table: “This guy was middleweight champ in ’49. Sure, no one outside The Bronx has heard of him, but he knocked Sugar Ray Robinson on his ass! We’ll shoot it in black and white. Every other word will be diry, and Joe Pesci…Who’s Joe Pesci?! So, he’s an unknown NOW, but you just wait…He’ll say, ‘Yo’ mutha sucks fuckin’ BIG fuckin’ ELEPHANT DICKS!’”
Yet it was made. And even more unbelievably it was nominated for Best Picture. But that isn’t saying much considering the Academy gave the award to “Ordinary People”.
The 2 disc collector’s edition is essential for anyone who loves “GoodFellas” and “The Sopranos” because this is the granddaddy of all modern day wiseguy films and your girlfriend will fall asleep halfway through it. In addition to mini-documentaries on the making of the film, the special features include the theatrical trailer, which, at the time, was like no other trailer I’d ever seen. In fact, I went to see the film when it was released on the strength of the trailer. There was no cheesy narration, just a few scenes with dialogue followed by images of the film set to the opening Intermezzo. I forgot what movie my girlfriend and I went to see when I first saw the trailer (I think it was ‘Ordinary People’), but after it was over, there were none of the usual murmurs from the crowd, just silence. A few people looked at each other, as if saying, “What the hell was THAT!?!?!”
I saw the film at least twenty times after it was released. It was a mesmerizing roller-coaster ride, rising with the ferocious fight scenes, both in the ring at at home, levelling out with Michael Chapman’s beautifully shot slow motion images, and sinking to the gritty and just downright depressing end of La Motta’s fight career, where it blurs to his stint as a nightclub owner and entertainer and his second term in prison. Sure, the film was famous for De Niro’s gaining fifty pounds to play La Motta in retirement, but it’s the sinewy, hunched over, stick and move, stick and move De Niro that stands out after all these years. (Here’s what I think is a sad comment on De Niro’s career: I was at Blockbuster recently and two college women were browsing through Drama and one of them commented: “I just can’t see Robert De Niro as a bad guy.”)
So buy, rent or steal this collector’s edition and watch Joe Pesci become a star, watch De Niro play tony Soprano years before that character was even a gleam in David Chase’s eye, and try to figure out where you’ve seen that guy who plays Mob Boss Tommy Como…
It’s ‘Coach’ in the TV Sitcom “Cheers”.