Robert De Niro won his second Oscar from his fourth nomination for portraying Jake Lamotta in Raging Bull.
Here is a performance that I really do not need to say anything about that really has not already been said. It certainly a heavily praised performance. So perhaps I should examine this particular performance by how one could attempt to criticize the performance.
The main criticism of the performance, from the few instances I have seen of it criticize it generally state that it is a one note performance. Well this certainly could be misinterpreted as one note, but it is an incredibly complex performance. The other criticisms stem usually from the performance being not all sympathetic, this again is exactly as Lamotta should be portrayed. De Niro actually refuses to actually ever make him a charming guy, leaving him as the unintelligent, low life he should be portrayed as. I still though would not say he is entirely unsympathetic, but he only ever gains sympathy by being such a pathetic character.
So yes I disagree with the criticism, even though for awhile I never rated De Niro as one of my favorite winners. This time watching it though his performance really has grown on me, even more so, since I still believed it to be great. Watching this time around though I really began to notice the subtle, introverted aspects De Niro managed to weave with the exterior facade of Lamotta that he always presents often quite loudly.
Lamotta is presented as De Niro as certainly an angry man, constantly filled with jealousy. De Niro shows this as an anger that has developed with Lamotta his entire life, something that he really cannot lose. He presents it really as a defense mechanism for Lamotta to usually hide his own insecurities. The rapid fire, sometimes almost unexpected way he breaks out into his angry fits is especially well handled by De Niro, showing as almost an animalistic tendency.
De Niro really shows these tendencies well in the boxing scenes. Boxing scenes usually are not really moments to allow for great acting. One really generally will not notice if the person is believable as a boxer, it only really is noticeable if they are not believable. De Niro is not only overwhelming believable in the boxing scenes, but more importantly it shows the nature of Lamotta. De Niro's has the full force of an animal in his boxing scenes, and properly conveys both the pleasure and the power that he has inside of the ring. The one place where Lamotta really can be in full command, and unleash his full emotional force.
It is interesting to note that De Niro is a domineering presence throughout the film, despite not really being charming or charismatic. De Niro though has the right ability to be interesting, very interesting, despite portraying the uncharismatic Lamotta. I think De Niro is particularly strong in his moments with Lamotta wife Vicki. It is strong acting by De Niro, in that I did not doubt his ability to pick her up, because of his certian presence, despite lacking an innate charm. It is interesting relationship, but De Niro conveys his uncharismatic sway that he does have over her at times entirely convincing.
To me the best part of De Niro's performance is when he actually does show the sensitivity Lamotta has, which he does try to hide behind his rage. It is the combination he has between these aspects of Lamotta that is so fascinating which De Niro pulls off magnificently. De Niro always has the right undercurrent of the sensitivity and a certian nervousness of Lamotta underneath his angry exterior.
His jealous fits over his wife, are shown through De Niro his inability to ever really think she could really be completely devoted to him. Even more interesting though is his sensitivity over his boxing achievement and ability. De Niro earnestly shows Lamotta want to achieve greatness, and how he becomes truly disheartened from his set backs, such as when he cries like a baby after throwing the fight. That scene could have been easily all wrong, but De Niro really show the true nature of Lamotta in that scene.
De Niro exceeds well in every aspect of Lamotta, fully realizing the man, finding depth always even when it seems like there is very little of it in the man. De Niro does not make Lamotta's slow descent a physical one, but also a mental and psychological one. He shows that Lamotta slowly becomes less and less able in his abilities as a boxer, but also grows even more desperate, and even more sensitive creating eventually his biggest jealous rages, and his loss of his title.
It is incredible to see De Niro at the end of the film. He no longer is a champ, or at all a special man. He has lost any talent he once had, but still attempts to keep his time in the sun through his terrible comedy routines. This complete loss of everything he ever had, is striking because De Niro slowly brought Lamotta to his end. It interesting to see though that he does show that has Lamotta has learned a little, a very little do to his free fall from the top. Overall De Niro is an intense performance as well as subtle and complex performance that is completely deserving of its reputation it has received.