Well-done in every respect, "Raging Bull" nevertheless made me feel somewhat ambivalent about its content. As a depiction of real life boxer Jake Le Motta (amazingly portrayed by Robert De Niro)'s degeneration from a rage-filled fighter to a fat, unkempt slob of a man, the movie can be forgiven for not giving us a warm and fuzzy reiteration of the events.
However, the characters the film portrays are so hard to care about, that it's hard not to look at it with a mix of disbelief and stoicism. That said, "Raging Bull" as a piece of cinematic history is magnificent. The black-and-white photography, which might peeve some, is a fascinating stylistic approach.
Jake La Motta, not a very nice man, is the kind of sleazy charmer that you've warned your daughters about. After getting together with nubile 15-year-old Vickie (Cathy Morierty, who doesn't look a day younger than twenty-five,) La Motta introduced her some good old-fashioned brutality, smothering her with jealousy while eventually neglecting her needs in the bedroom.
Fighting can be a means to make money, or it can be a way of life. I'm afraid the latter is true for De Niro's Jake, who finds comfort in beating the tar out of his opponents, and sometimes Vickie and his brother Joey (Joe Pesci.)
Jake Le Motta is a hateable character, but eventually you don't feel hate for him as much as pity, as he shambles his way into middle age (De Niro transforms himself into older La Motta, gaining 70 pounds on an eating binge.)
"Raging Bull" is a great movie, yes, but not a favorite of mine, as the darkness in the character's hearts and lives can grow a little tedious, with no one to root for. It's more a character study than sports movie, and one doesn't need to be a boxing fan to get something out of it (heck, even director Martin Scorsese initially turned down the project, not being a fan of the sport.)
Ultimately, La Motta's is so much about his fights inside the ring as his explosive rage out of it. As it is, it is an important piece of history and an impressive film. But damn it, I like "Taxi Driver" better. Sorry, "Bull" enthusiasts.