The story of Jake LaMotta. Jake seems to be obsessed with being the best boxer. He also becomes obsessed with Vicki, a young girl from his neighbourhood. Jake is married, though badly, and in spite of that he pursues Vicki, eventually marrying her. Even married, he remains obsessed. He must control her, he must know what she is doing, even when he’s not around. LaMotta follows these two obsessions through the movie.
Fittingly, he quotes from “On the Waterfront” in the closing moments, with a flat interpretation of Brando’s famous “I coulda been someone, I coulda been a contender” lines. This reminds us of the way LaMotta could have turned out if he had been willing to both work within the parameters of the boxing world, and also not thrown fights for his own personal gain.
I wasn’t sure when the movie was over what I was supposed to feel. There is never an attempt to make LaMotta likeable or honourable. Tough perhaps, but worthy of respect, no. I only felt bad that LaMotta turned out like he did, a washed up, almost was who is more famous for being depicted in this movie than for anything he actually accomplished in his life. Sadly, since this is based on his autobiography, (though some important details were changed for the movie) this is not just a movie but someone’s life. Perhaps that is what made it arrive on AFI’s top 100 list. As a work of fiction it wouldn’t work, as a biography, it makes it more dramatic.
This movie is way too gritty for my tastes. The language is over the top in its presentation of the 1940’s. Of course, the boxing world may have been that raw, but personally I felt the language made this movie painful to watch, not just gritty and honest.
This movie makes me now want to finish watching “On the Waterfront”. We own it, but the DVD has a flaw in it that makes it quit working about 2/3 of the way through. I want to see how that film plays out Brando’s comeback from a has-been boxer to life on the docks battling union corruption. That movie at least had some redemption available for the character.