Jake La Motta vs. Sugar Ray Robinson, 'Raging Bull' (1980)
Starting with that haunting opening credits sequence of Robert De Niro shadow-boxing in slow-motion, Martin Scorsese's masterpiece has zero interest in the mechanics of the sweet science. So put the scorecards away: The filmmaker doesn't care to give the audience a blow-by-blow perspective on Jake La Motta's third and final bout against Sugar Ray Robinson, known as "The St. Valentine's Massacre." Instead, he turns La Motta's performance into a gruesome nightmare of popping flashbulbs, savage headshots, and blood dripping from saturated rope; the whole thing epitomizes the yen for self-destruction that's ruined his life. That taunt after the closing bell — "You never got me down, Ray" — is both petty and tragic.
Pretend boxing skills: De Niro famously gained 60 pounds to play the older La Motta, and his Method commitment no doubt had him traveling back in time to study the champ's boxing technique as well. (After sparring with the actor, La Motta claimed that the movie star could have been an ace pugilist; according to a 2010 Vanity Fair article, the actor entered a few pro fights on the sly on won two of them.) But that last Robinson fight is so abstract that De Niro's skills — and those of Johnny Barnes, as Robinson — are virtually rendered irrelevant. N/A
Style: Each fight in Raging Bull has its own texture, but this one is Scorsese at the top of his game, turning the sport into an expression of La Motta's tortured psyche. 10
Stakes: For as much as the champ punishes himself in the fight, he's a boxer of declining skills clinging to the sport for dear life, hoping an upset will keep him from falling off the precipice. 10
Overall rating: 10