There's a whole slew of boxing movies that I've never seen before, simply due to it never really being my thing. In fact, sports movies in general were never really my thing unless I could find some sort of differing qualities that didn't fall under the old formula of "underdog, or underdog team works their way to the final battle and wins". Most of these made for kids would also include the token "pro" among the misfits. I leaned more towards sports movies that told an interesting story disassociated from the sport like 'The Sandlot' where the final showdown involves a giant dog, showing the token "pro" display his skills in other ways.
Now that I've used such a youthful and fun example, this brings me to Scorsese's 'Raging Bull', which is definitely one of the more unique boxing movies I've ever seen. Its use of black and white, and use of years past make it something timeless, and it goes to places one wouldn't really expect. It all opens with, of all things, a comedy routine from former boxing champ Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro), who has been aged almost unrecognizably. The film then flashes back from 1964 to 1941, where we see him lose his first boxing match to a guy named Jimmy Reeves (Floyd Anderson). He then discusses a potential shot for the middle-weight title with his brother, Joey (Joe Pesci), who has a mafia connection with someone named Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent).
Without unfolding the whole plot, the film follows the career and personal life of LaMotta, largely including his brother and his significantly younger spouse, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) and their relationships. One key thing in this movie is the idea that LaMotta is someone you really neither love nor hate. There are moments in this where you see him as a total piece of crap, but there are others that you can't help but feel for him. Behind a lot of it is a terrible jealous streak that makes him altogether abusive, often taking it out in the ring. A lot of this seems to be about the downfall as well as the uprising, which is something that can be applied to just about any career in the realm of "fame".
The film is, indeed, based on the life of a real person. Perhaps the most notable moment in his boxing career was his six-fight rivalry with Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes), which is highlighted through the film. De Niro's performance here is probably the best aspect of the movie, often making me laugh (albeit perhaps a bit inappropriately). For example when he yells at his wife for his steak near the beginning, going "BRING IT OVA HEEAAH!" But as I said, he does become a well fleshed-out character where your feelings on him are a bit mixed. It's almost like you want to want to route for him, but his reputation as a bully holds you back.
I have said this before, but I definitely have a thing for movies that develop a character who isn't seen as particularly good or bad, but human. I think the movie 'Crash' has always been my favourite example of such a movie, but this certainly does do a good job of it - with everyone, not just our lead. Often viewed as one of Scorsese's best works, I would have to fully agree. This is a fine example of a film that has a generous sprinkling of everything, It does range very well, making you go from feeling apathetic for the character to sympathetic and you sort of do a back and forth with it. This one is a true work of art on Scorsese's part, and I might suggest he hasn't quite done anything like this since.