This is not a film about boxing; this is a film about the fractured life of Jake LaMotta, a one-time world champion boxer. If you understand the difference then you can truly appreciate the film. Scorsese’s beautiful black and white photography and subtle sound mix make us feel as if we’re watching a great vintage film from the 1940s…except for the graphic language and brutal violence.
This film is like a punch in the face because Jake is not an empathetic character and we are allowed access to his most violent and demented delusions. The characteristics that made LaMotta a great boxer are those that made him a sad and terrible human being; this is the living contradiction that Scorsese examines. The camerawork is fantastic as Scorsese artfully frames every punch and doesn’t resort to gimmicky quick-cut editing.
Robert DeNiro’s performance is now legendary as he is able to bring a modicum of humanity to a punch-drunk washed-up sex-offending criminal. LaMotta was never knocked down in the ring but his life was mostly spent face down on the mat.
Final Grade: (A)