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Raging Bull (1980)
Brilliant cinematic achievement, but falls short.
Raging Bull is at the same time a brilliant movie and a disappointment. People are correct when they say that DeNiro's performance as La Motta ranks as one of the greatest of all time, but great acting does not necessarily equate to a great movie, and the weak script ultimately overshadows both DeNiro's performance and Scorsese's directing to result in a movie that falls short of it's potential.
Scorsese tries with all his might to hold the movie together with arguably his best directorial performance. It has all the classical aspects of a Scorsese film: beautiful editing, superb camera work, great score, stunning visual sequences. But as mentioned, the real standout is DeNiro's acting. The rage and passion that La Motta shows towards every aspect of his life flow effortlessly from DeNiro, and as a viewer you are unable to separate the actor from his role, which is a sign of a great performance.
Unfortunately the subject material was just to vast to fit into a 2-hr movie. Huge parts of La Motta's life fly by in montage sequences; new phases in his life last a few minutes before they are uprooted to further the plot, and what began as a character study ends up in a race to sum up his entire career. In the end the movie seems to be a collection of snapshots of La Motta's life and career, with a few short scenes thrown in to try to depict La Motta as more than just a paranoid masochist. But these scenes are few and insignificant when compared to the vast majority that illustrate his explosive violence and rage, and the resulting one-dimensional character, coupled with an event oriented plot, leaves the viewer unable to fully relate to or sympathize with La Motta. Even if certain scenes were to invoke emotion, time flies by so fast that the viewer is left little time to fully process where the story is headed.
Overall I feel as though these shortcomings are direct results of trying to create a movie around an autobiographical novel. When the director is constrained to tell the truth, there is very little leeway to modify the script as might be necessary to improve the enjoyment of the viewer. I think unfortunately is boils down to the fact that as presented, La Motta's life is just not as magnificent or as entertaining as some of the more recent movies that tackle this similar "rise and demise" plot structure, and so the movie fails to entertain to its fullest capacity. It's neither a straight character study, nor is it an overly compelling story, and so it remains unable to satisfy the viewer in either way.
Despite these pitfalls with the plot, Raging Bull still rises above the average film by its gorgeous directing and brilliant acting, and when viewed from this angle, remains a must-watch movie for any fan of the cinema.