1941. La Motta is in the boxing ring between rounds fighting Jimmy Reeves. All his seconds, including his brother, tell him to knock out his opponent before it’s too late. The next round, Jake knocks Reeves down. Flashbulbs go off as La Motta does it again. After a third knockdown, Reeves is counted out and the bell rings — Jake now with his arms raised triumphantly. Reeves is dragged back to his corner and awarded the fight. The crowd are upset with the result and get rowdy, angrily throwing popcorn, then chairs, into the ring.
The Bronx, New York City. Jake’s wife has overcooked his steak and he’s angry. When she heaps more and more food onto his plate, he stands up and overturns the dining table. He throws his plate of food at the wall.
Joey’s talking to Salvy about Jake getting new management from local crime boss, Tommy. When Joey goes up to Jake’s apartment, Jake and his wife are still rowing over the steak. She retreats behind some double doors and Larry the neighbour then starts yelling through the window. Jake yells back, threatening to eat the man’s dog if he persists with the yelling.
Brother Joey calms Jake down a bit. Jake’s depressed that he’s a middleweight and so will never get the chance to fight Joe Lewis — a heavyweight. You’re in the weight division you’re in. Out of the blue, Jake asks his little brother to hit him in the face. Joey refuses. Finally, Jake makes him wrap a tea towel around his fist and Joey starts throwing connecting punches at Jake. After each punch, Jake wants a harder one. They stop when Jake’s cuts start to open.
By the neighbourhood swimming pool, Jake notices Vickie — she’s fifteen years old. Joey reminds Jake that it’s over for him, he’s already married. Next day, Joey calls Vickie over. Soon, Jake takes her out in his car. They play crazy golf until Vickie’s ball gets stuck in a miniature church. Jake brings her up to his apartment. He shows her all the rooms, including the bedroom.
Before his next fight, Jake gets amorous with Vickie, then remembers his training. He pours ice water all over his groin to regain composure. It’s the third time La Motta and Robinson have fought each other. Although Jake knocks Sugar Ray down, Robinson wins on points. Joey thinks he only won because the following week, he’s going into the army.
Pelham Parkway Bronx, New York City. 1947. Jake marries Vickie and Joey marries Lenora. Both brothers also start families. Jake comes downstairs and starts a row with Joey. Jake questions Joey’s managing strategy. When Vickie casually says that next selection Tony Janiro is good-looking, Jake gets even more upset. Both wives are ordered out of the room.
Jake speaks softly to Joey. He suspects Vickie of cheating on him. Joey recommends Jake takes her out for a nice meal before he goes to training camp. He must get down to 155lbs ahead of the Janiro fight. Jake then takes Joey’s advice, goes into the next room and patches things up with Vickie.
Jake, Joey and Vickie are all at the Copacabana club. When Salvy arrives, Vickie goes over. Jake’s already jealous, then he sees Tommy’s there, too. When Vickie returns, Jake is paranoid. Just as he’s threatening to smack Vickie across the face, a round of drinks arrives. Joey goes over to say thank you to Tommy and Salvy. Jake is also beckoned over.
When they discuss his next fight, Janiro is again referred to as being good-looking — further infuriating Jake. Later, Jake is at Vickie’s bedside now waking her up to discuss her earlier comment on Janiro’s looks. When Jake finally fights Janiro, he makes a point of disfiguring the man — especially his face and nose. At ringside, Tommy notes that Janiro is now no longer good-looking.
Joey’s at the bar when he notices Vickie walk in with Salvy. Joey takes her aside, but she really wants to stay. Joey goes to Salvy, smashes a glass over the man’s head and upturns the whole table. Salvy follows Joey out of the club only to be beaten down on the pavement and then have Joey slam his head repeatedly in a car door.
There’s a sit down at the Debonair Social Club to discuss Joey and Salvy fighting — Salvy still with a bandage on his face and his arm in a sling. The management can’t have that kind of a scene. Tommy makes the men shake hands, then asks to speak to Joey alone. Jake makes Tommy look bad. Joey says that Jake likes doing things his own way. Tommy then says that no fighter in history ever made it on their own. Later, Jake still has a problem trusting Vickie. He tells Joey he wants to catch her cheating just once.
La Motta vs Fox. NYC. 1947. La Motta throws the fight in terrible fashion, leaving the ring mid-round. He’s crying his eyes out afterwards. The newspaper headlines say that he’s officially suspended from boxing. For Joey, taking a dive has to be the easiest thing in the world — you just pretend to lose.
Pelham Parkway, New York, 1950. Jake is tinkering with his new television. When Vickie arrives and briefly kisses Joey on the mouth, Jake gets upset. Joey then comments on how overweight Jake’s become, especially with a fight fast approaching. Jake then asks about the night Joey gave Salvy a beating. Jake feels that he should’ve been clued in because Vickie was there. Now, he’s paranoid as to why Joey never detailed the incident for him. Jake is furious and asks Joey if he’s had sex with Vickie. Joey leaves, incredulous and thoroughly offended by his brother’s lack of faith in him.
Jake accuses Vickie of having slept with Joey and starts slapping her around. She hides in the bathroom, but he breaks down the door. She spitefully screams that she slept with Joey and others, because that’s what he wants to hear. Armed with this apparent confirmation, Jake heads over to Joey’s house and gives him a beating, he also knocks Vickie to the floor.
Later on, she forgives him. He wins his next fight, then calls Joey to apologise, but loses his nerve and hangs up. Joey watches Jake’s next fight on TV. Although Robinson wins the championship and gives La Motta a real pounding, Jake reminds the man that he never actually put him on the canvas.
Miami, 1956. Jake says he’s never boxing again. All he did was worry about his weight all the time. On the mic at his new nightclub, Jake schmoozes the crowd, making wise cracks and jokes. Here and there, he recites his own, boxing-related poetry. Two potentially underage girls have to kiss Jake passionately so they can stay drinking in his club. Outside in the sunshine, Vickie tells Jake she’s leaving him again. He doesn’t believe her.
Jake’s awoken by men from the District Attorney’s office. They accuse him of having introduced a fourteen year old girl to some men at his club. Now, Jake needs $10,000 for his bail. He goes to Vickie’s house to get his championship belt and starts hammering at it to get the jewels out. Unluckily for Jake, the pawnbroker then says the jewels would have been worth more if they were still part of the belt. He fails to raise the full amount he needs.
Dade County Stockade. Florida. 1957. Two prison guards wrestle Jake into a darkened cell as he swears and curses at them. Now alone, he starts vigorously head-butting the wall, pounding it with his fists and crying out desperately in anguish.
New York City. 1958. Jake is onstage bombing. He gets angry with a heckler, then introduces the next act. Later that night, he sees Joey and follows him to his car. Although Jake keeps forcing hugs and kisses on Joey, Joey is unimpressed.
The Barbizon Plaza. He rehearses scenes from On The Waterfront in front of the mirror. He then does some quick shadow-boxing and gives himself a pep-talk before he goes on.
Based on a true story
Starring Robert De Niro. Cathy Moriarty. Joe Pesci. Rated X. Directed Martin Scorsese. Released in the UK 1980. Runtime 2hrs 9mins