Nearly thirty years old, Raging Bull was far from a box office smash back when it was released in 1980. The film, however, had critical acclaim pouring in and soon it was deluged with eight Oscar nominations. Robert DeNiro won for best actor, while the film was nominated for best picture and director as well. Now with an all-new Blu-ray release, Raging Bull can be experienced in home theaters like never before.
Robert DeNiro teams with director Martin Scorsese in this “extraordinarily compelling” (Leonard Maltin) film that introduced unflinching realism to stunned audiences in 1980. An “exceedingly violent as well as poetic” fight picture that maps “the landscape of the soul” (The New York Times), Raging Bull garnered eight Oscar nominations* and won two, including Best Actor for DeNiro. DeNiro gives the performance of his career as Jake LaMotta, a boxer whose psychological and sexual complexities erupt into violence both in and out of the ring. Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty are unforgettable as the brother who falls prey to Jake’s mounting paranoia and jealousy, and the fifteen-year-old girl who becomes his most prized trophy. A “brilliantly photographed film of extraordinary power and rare distinction” (The Wall Street Journal), Raging Bull is filmmaking at its riveting best.
I find myself coming late to the party on a lot of these classic films from the 70’s and 80’s and Raging Bull is yet another entry. Unfortunately, like older movies that I’m just now seeing, I’m less than impressed with the outcomes and often find the Oscar hype lauded upon the film to be a little…overgenerous. Not to say that Raging Bull isn’t a great film; it is, I just find Oscar films often following the same pattern of talkative and extremely dramatic pieces, rather than something that I truly find engrossing and entertaining.
Again, not a knock against this film in the least; it really is a wonderfully directed and acted film (especially on DeNiro’s part, as well as Pesci). My main issues with the film really just stem from its pacing, but it really is just like a documentary with no voice over or historical interviews. We see disputes that last on-screen for ten to twenty minutes, whereas normal films would glide by them in three or four. That’s just the way this film is; it’s very leisurely paced and unless you really are into the story of Jake La Motta, then you’ll be a little underwhelmed by it.
Which is really just where I fall in; I really wanted to get into the film, but I often find myself underwhelmed by Scorsese’s directing efforts for whatever reason. I felt similar towards Gangs of New York, which was just as talkative and un-action filled as this one was. Still, Raging Bull is a great character piece as we get to see La Motta climb the ranks and go for the title, all the while accompanied by fantastic performances from everyone involved.
Overall Raging Bull is a classic and I’m sure I offended more than a few with my comments that didn’t praise it endlessly, but that’s just the way some of these films go. What’s unique about this film was that while it was nicely done, the general lack of musical score and the random transitions from scene-to-scene felt a bit disorienting. On top of that, DeNiro really looked a lot like Sean Penn with that fake nose, so I had more than a few on-screen distractions to contend with that kept pulling me out of the film.
Still, with a film like this it’s easy to see why it’s endured the test of time as long as it has. It’s well-done, supremely well written and it looks wonderful. You truly get a “old film” feel for the style of this film, aside from the gratuitous amounts of foul language, anyway. Recommended simply for seeing a piece of movie history, but if you’re anything like me and prefer Scorsese’s more modern works like The Departed, then Raging Bull may leave you feeling underwhelmed.
Fox has released Raging Bull in a single disc release without any notices other than a firmware upgrade and disc art that mimics the cover. No slipcover is included and the menus for the film are simple and easy to navigate (with a cool bullet sound effect each time you change options). One nice thing about this Blu-ray release is Fox didn’t merely re-use the previous editions covers, but rather created a custom look for this release. Extras are the same as the previous “Special Edition” release from 2005.
The video arrives in an AVC encoded (@28mbps) that brings to life Raging Bull like never before. The video, completely in black and white (aside from home movie segments, which are incredibly grainy and…well, distressed looking), is crystal clear, with plenty of great detail seen throughout. The jet black gloss of Frank Vincent’s hair shines and everything about this film looks fantastic. Plenty of great cinematography accompanies this period looking film and from beginning to end it looks absolutely astonishing. The audio mix, arriving in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, is predominantly front channel focused. Even the crowd sequences don’t do much in terms of surrounds and the punches are relatively flat; they aren’t loaded with depth, which is a bit strange considering this is a DTS-HD track. I guess it simply suffers from mediocre 1980’s sound effects. Also included is an English Surround, French 5.1 DTS, Portuguese and Turkish DD5.1 tracks as well as English SDH, French, Portuguese, Cantonese, Mandarin, Korean, Thai, Turkish, and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
* Commentary by Director Martin Scorsese and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker
* Cast & Crew Commentary – Irwin Winkler, Robbie Robertson, Robert Chartoff, Theresa Saldana, John Turturro, Frank Warner, Michael Chapman and Cis Corman
* Storyteller Commentary – with Mardik Martin, Paul Schrader, Jason Lustig and Jake LaMotta
* Raging Bull: Before the Fight – The writing casting and pre-production
* Raging Bull: Inside the Ring – The choreography of the fight scenes
* Raging Bull: Outside the Ring – Behind the scenes stories of making the film
* Raging Bull: After the Fight – The sound design, the music, and the impact of the film
* “The Bronx Bull” – Making-of documentary
* DeNiro vs. LaMotta – Shot – by – shot comparison in the ring
* LaMotta Defends Title – Newsreel footage
* Original theatrical trailer
Plenty to check out? You bet. The commentaries alone are worth the price of admission, with a fantastic cast and crew commentary that is rivaled only by Scorsese’s commentary. All three of them are an absolute delight to listen to, with scads of information tossed about the production of the film. The in-depth, four-part documentary is nearly an hour and a half in length and is well worth checking out if you enjoyed the film. The remaining extras are all a fascinating affair, with plenty of great tidbits and cast and crew interviews along the way. We even get to hear from Robert DeNiro, which is really nice.
Overall this is a fantastic release and one that belongs in movie-goers collections. While I wasn’t as impressed with the film as I’m sure I would’ve been, it is quite an impressive film nonetheless. Especially when you take into account that it is nearly thirty years old. Recommended for newcomers, but those who own the previous edition may need to think about upgrading, as the only advantage is a solid 1080p transfer and a lackluster DTS-HD MA track.
Raging Bull is now available on Blu-ray.