Raging Bull – 4 stars

Martin Scorsese’s film is visually captivating and anchored by Robert De Niro’s mythic performance as the tortured pugilist Jake LaMotta. The feel of 40s and 50s New York is made more authentic by Scorsese’s use of black-and-white, and as boxing movies go, there is none better at conveying the bloody brutality of the sport. All these gifts, however, come with the stench of a major character who is, through and through, a dim, vicious brute. A recent film with a similar infirmity is Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master, which had myriad other problems, but which also asked the audience to invest in Joaquin Phoenix, a jet fuel slurping, brainless, dypso thug who comes under the sway of a charismatic. Who cares? Similarly, in an otherwise brilliant film, Scorsese asks us to engage with an animal, a one-note beast. After the fourth scene of LaMotta becoming violent and/or obsessively compulsive over the fidelity of his blond bombshell of a wife (Cathy Moriarty), the yawns become harder to stifle. It’s a testament to the charms of the picture that you happily stick with it.

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