Kehr Capsule of the Week: Raging Bull (1980)

I can’t pan it, but this 1980 fantasy biography of fighter Jake LaMotta seems unquestionably Martin Scorsese’s weakest work, at least to that point in his career. The central conceit—that no matter how monstrous LaMotta is to his friends, family, and self, he is still close to God and will receive his grace—is debased Bresson filtered through screenwriter Paul Schrader, and it has little or no dramatic impact. As LaMotta, Robert De Niro gives a blank, soulless performance; there’s so little of depth or urgency coming from him that he’s impossible to despise, or forgive, in any but the most superficial way. The film is told parable style, with separate episodes of moral testing—a design that tends toward the simple, the monotonous, the redundant. Well worth seeing as is any work of this breakthrough stylist, but expectations should be adjusted. With Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, and Nicholas Colasanto.

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