Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Film Review: RAGING BULL (1980, Martin Scorsese)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 129 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Robert de Niro, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty (KINDERGARTEN COP), written by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin based on the book by Jake LaMotta, Joseph Carter, and Peter Savage.
Tag-lines: None.
Best one-liner: " I get ya's both in the ring, I'll give ya both a fuckin' beatin', ya both can fuck each other."

One of American cinema's dingiest, grimiest, most brutal sub-genres was the "Boxing Noir," which encompassed films like THE SET-UP, KILLER'S KISS, CHAMPION, CITY FOR CONQUEST, 99 RIVER STREET, BODY AND SOUL, and THE HARDER THEY FALL, among others. (Also see "Wrestling Noir," like NIGHT AND THE CITY.) These were far grimmer, sweatier, sleazier, and more visceral than your standard noir- the heroes frequently being palookas and mad apes whose lack of moral fiber was only exceeded by their desire to lash out wildly- to PUNCH, PUNCH, PUNCH!

It was a world of dark alleys, crinkling flashbulbs, and sweat and blood-drenched leather and canvas. So in a nod to those that came before, Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, and Robert de Niro decided to smack the American "sports genre" in the mouth with one savage, merciless blow, which broke up the fluffy, soft-shoe wankfest that had developed in Boxing Noir's absence. Using the Bronx, and it's culture of domestic, organized, and recreational violence as a starting point, Scorsese creates a world of ferocious, untamed, irreconcilable contrasts- a world of black and white, of toned bodies and flabby husks, of raw power and complete impotency, of rage and tranquility, of determination and aimlessness. And the only thing that can reconcile these contrasts in the mind of our hero is 'to punch' and 'to be punched.'

It's a confusing enough world already for most of us who haven't been beaten senselessly in the head on a regular basis and endured God knows how many concussions; so how can the oafish Jake even hope to cope with the complex rumblings of his bleakly constructed soul? Well, watch the film and find out. Five stars.

-Sean Gill

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