Raging Bull

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Martin Scorsese's brutal character study incisively portrays the true rise and fall and redemption of middleweight boxer Jake La Motta, a violent man in and out of the ring who thrives on his ability (and desire) to take a beating.  Despite pressure from the local mobsters, Jake trusts his brother Joey (Joe Pesci) to help him make it to a title bout against Sugar Ray Robinson the honest way; the Mob, however, will not cave in.  Jake gets the title bout, and blonde teenage second wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), but success does nothing to exorcise his demons, even as he channels his rage into boxing. Alienating Vickie and Joey, and disastrously gaining weight, Jake has destroyed his personal and professional lives by the 1950s.  Working with a script adapted by Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader from La Motta's memoirs, Scorsese and De Niro sought to make an uncompromising portrait of an unlikable man and his ruthless profession.  Michael Chapman's stark black-and-white photography creates a documentary/tabloid realism; the production famously shut down so that De Niro could gain 50-plus pounds. Despite eight Oscar nominations, it underperformed at the box office, as audiences increasingly turned away from "difficult" films in the late '70s and early '80s. The Academy concurred, passing over Scorsese's work for Best Director and Picture in favor of Robert Redford and Ordinary People, although De Niro won a much-deserved Oscar, as did the film's editor, Thelma Schoonmaker. Oscar or no Oscar, Raging Bull has often been cited as the best American film of the 1980s.

Director Martin Scorcese.  129 mins, Rated R.