The film starts in the 1960s as Jake (Robert De Niro) prepares backstage prior to a stand up comedy show, which leads in to a flashback to 1941, when La Motta was in his prime as one of the major contenders for the middle weight championship of the world.
Jake is in a turbulent marriage, not helped by his misogyny and his uncontrollable jealousy. His brother Joey, played by newcomer Joe Pesci, acts as his manager, and tries to keep Jake from getting in to trouble.
In next to no time Jake meets Vickie, the woman (at 15 more aptly described as a girl) who will become his second wife. His jealousy towards Vickie (Cathy Moriarty) is suffocating. One notable example is when Jake is discussing his next fight against Tony Janiro with his brother, Vickie mentions that the fight would be good for Jake's profile as Janiro is a popular, good looking kid. This sends Jake in to a fury, and when fight night comes around he tears Janiro to pieces.
In order to get a shot at the world title Jake is persuaded by mafia bosses to throw a fight, he reluctantly does this, which causes him considerable anguish and public humiliation.
After his subsequent victory against Marcel Cerdan in 1949, and having achieved his dream, he starts to pile on weight (De Niro put on 60 pounds to play the older Jake) and after a huge bust up with his brother his boxing career goes down the pan.
At the end of the film we find ourselves backstage again where we came in at the start of the movie, and De Niro recounts Marlon Brando's "I could have been a contender" speech from (AFI 100 Movies #8) On The Waterfront.
The film is shot in black and white, which gives it a 1940's aesthetic, and the boxing scenes are visceral and brutal.
Martin Scorsese is one of my favourite directors. It says a lot about his skill as a director, not to mention De Niro's as an actor, that Raging Bull is a very watchable film, considering the main protagonist is a pretty awful person.