Image via WikipediaIt wasn't next from the bottom of the AFI 100, but I happened to notice it at the library, and, having just watched The Fighter, I grabbed Raging Bull. I'm glad I did.
At number four on the list, it was the highest rated film I had yet to see. I love Scorcese anyway, and he didn't disappoint.
De Niro and Pesci were as advertised, but I thought Cathy Moriarty stole many of the scenes in the film. In a way, her character (LaMotta's second wife, Vikki) is the strongest in the film. She doesn't back down from LaMotta's verbal abuse and gives as good as she takes. The black and white of the film really highlights her blonde hair and fair skin and works as a great contrast with De Niro's dark hair.
Raging Bull fits all the qualities of the classic Greek tragedy. LaMotta reaches great heights but is brought down by his own tragic flaw. Some see his temper as the flaw, but it's his paranoia - constantly suspecting his wife of cheating and his brother and the local mafia of conspiring to swindle him. It eventually drives him to brutally attack his brother and destroy their relationship. He eventually goes on to win the title, but it seems hollow because his brother is not by his side.
Martin Scorcese highlights LaMotta's struggle against being controlled by the mafia, but later shows how he succumbs and throws a fight just to get a shot at the title. His tearful breakdown in the locker room after the Hill fight could almost be considered the climax of the film, even though he had yet to win the title. He takes great pride in not having been knocked down in the ring, but his integrity suffers a deadly blow. He doesn't realize he's already lost everything he fought for.
After that, it's downhill for the character even though his career has yet to peak. Everyone he's loved abandons him, and he's left, in the end, talking to himself in a mirror - a fitting narcissistic ending for the character.
As for number four on the top 100, I think that's a bit high, but it should certainly be in the discussion.