Martin Scorsese’s biographical portrait of the 1940s boxing champion Jake La Motta is a study of seething male aggression to rank alongside his 1976 film Taxi Driver. Adapted from La Motta’s memoirs by Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, the film opens in the early 1960s with an overweight La Motta practising his post-boxing cabaret routine. Through flashbacks we witness the dramas of his time in the ring, his abusive marriages, and his turbulent relationship with his brother and manager Joey (Joe Pesci).
The sequences between the ropes are extraordinarily immediate, with Michael Chapman’s mobile black and white cinematography closely attending every blow, and Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing brutally precise and dynamic. Robert De Niro famously gained weight to play the out of shape La Motta of later years.