Victor Cannell’s review published on Letterboxd:
Raging Bull is one of the most simultaneously beautiful and painful films I have ever seen. Its my favourite Scorsese, and currently my favourite film of all time. I have never reviewed it, because I’ve found it to be such a daunting task. Where do you start? What can you say that hasn’t been said? I will try to disregard these hypothetical questions, as I feel like discussing what is my favourite film is something I should do.
When I watch Raging Bull, every frame just swells with such a palpable passion for the story being told by every member of the crew. Everyone. But - especially Bob and Marty. DeNiro’s vulnerable and violent abandon into such insecurity and rage has this wonderfully paradoxical effect of creating a character that you can’t help but strongly despise but deeply pity at the same time. As much of a fucking asshole as he is, he is one of the most human characters to me, being very realistically layered and flawed in his motivations, insecurities, how his insecurities influence his motivations, and how his actions so obviously mask some deep fragility and vulnerability within himself. He is one of the most human characters, and he is so impeccably performed, offering a variety of different forms of emotional catharses that I find so deeply affecting. Every single action or thing the character does/says is so telling of who he is. A small detail I love is the way he dodges eye contact when shaking people hands. Seriously a top 5 performance of all time. You could write a whole review on the performance alone. Scorsese shoots this character and his perspective in a way that humanizes him, while not endorsing him, so beautifully and uncomfortably empathetically. I particularly love the way that jealousy is translated, so perfectly through slow-motion and purposeful close-ups that so effectively put you in the head of this insecure character. Small gestures, such as a kiss on the cheek or the touch of a shoulder are isolated and so perfectly put into context of a possessive, cripplingly jealous mind. The cinematography always feels intimate and done with a deep care and pity towards the central character. When we aren’t focusing on the characters interiority, the cinematography is just fantastic, with incredibly stunning movements and compositions throughout.
*Some minor spoilers in this paragraph*
The boxing scenes are pure cinematic magic. Specifically the final one, where Lamotta’s intentions are layered and felt so viscerally due to the heightened and exaggerated version of reality the scene takes place in. Lamotta, in my perception, is doing two very telling things here: he is self-harming, while simultaneously still illustrating and fulfilling his desire to be perceived as the best, as unstoppable. The scene is stylistically orgasmic, employing some brilliant sound design in its ominous use of silence, the piercing sounds of the camera flashes (which were emulated by recording glass breaking), some amazing camera work, with trombone shots, close-ups, the rapid editing, the excessive bloodshed, etc. Scorsese reserves the most cinematic scene for such an essential and explosive moment of catharsis. As Lamotta shamefully realizes his toxic animality his destructive tendencies are now aimed inward, and the harrowing physical condition he is in after the fight visually illustrate the toll that trying to maintain such false pride results in. Brilliant scene. One of the best in cinema history.
Schrader’s script is absolutely perfect, selecting such perfect moments of Lamotta’s life to tell a thematically-cohesive and focused story in such painful detail and with real humanity. The narrative and thematic progression is so effective, with a constant underlying ticking time bomb of melancholy and destruction leading to some of the most painful scenes I have ever seen in my life. The score is beyond stunning, working with the beautiful cinematography to bring this violent story to such poetic and magical places. Thelma’s editing is of course to be marvelled at, the way she holds shots, the way she cuts, uses freeze frames, uses slow motion, uses sped up footage, etc., its a marvel.
Raging Bull is a true masterwork, and above all else, it just makes me feel more than most movies out there. This is accredited to everyone in the crew who bring this painful story to life in such technically perfect and emotionally palpable ways. A really special film. One that saved Marty’s career and one where I can feel the passion and personal resonance from everyone behind it, as well as myself, so powerfully, beautifully, and in a way that is just hard to put into words. As always when I review a film that is this close to my heart, I feel I have not done it the proper justice. Just watch it if you haven’t, and feel something. This is cinema in all of its deep affectivity and stylistic magic.