Blu-ray Review: Raging Bull

18 Jan

We’ve probably all got films we haven’t seen but know we really should. Citizen Kane is probably up there at the top of most people’s list while others are admitted to quietly in hushed tones once in a while.

One of my guilty secrets has always been Raging Bull, a film that just never came my way. Until this week.

I can’t quite explain how this one got away, but while Goodfellas (1990) and Taxi Driver (1976) have always seemed to be essential Scorcese/De Niro films, Raging Bull didn’t have the same aura about it. Thankfully this has all changed now and I’m now glad I’ve had the opportunity to both see and feel it.

Raging Bull takes a trip through the life of Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro), a middleweight boxing champion who turned pro at the age of 19 in 1941. With a record of 83 wins, 19 losses and four draws, with 30 wins by way of a knockout, LaMotta was someone to be reckoned with, though not just in the ring.

Where Raging Bull starts to get really interesting is in the depiction of LaMotta’s homelife as he cheats on his first wife to start seeing 15-year-old Vicki (Cathy Moriarty) while his brother and manager Joey (Joe Pesci)  tries to keep his increasingly violent behaviour in check.

Never a fan of sports movies, I was drawn in to each bout depicted here, partly because of the events in LaMotta’s life that bookend each fight and partly because of Scorcese’s painstaking efforts to make each encounter match what was going on in Jake’s mind.

One moment resembling the bowels of hell, complete with fire placed under the camera lens so that a heat haze is visible as the smoke filled boxing auditorium is entered by LaMotta, the boxing ring might soon be a wide open space, allowing the boxers room to size each other up.

While Jake is on the ascent in the ring, he’s almost always on the descent out of it. Jealous of his second wife’s imagined affairs with local men, an internal rage that reaches its peak when he suspects brother Joey of sleeping with her, DeNiro presents a Jake on a knife-edge, taking the viewer from one emotion to the next in the space of a few minutes.

It’s a cliche to say that DeNiro is one of our greatest living actors, but watching this film it’s hard not to disagree. I’d argue that piling on the pounds to portray the older Jake displays more dedication than skill, but the glances and pauses he uses, in combination with Scorcese’s slow motion effects, are enough to chill even the most hardened boxing fan.

Moriarty and Pesci are impeccable in support, the latter a real match for DeNiro, his one-liners and position as his brothers conscience a vital part of the tale.

High Definition has benefited Raging Bull no end. Although many scenes take place indoors, the infamous early scene by the pool where Jake notices Vicki for the first time looks glorious, Moriarty’s blonde hair glowing in the sun.

Inside the ring those aforementioned action shots are more brutal than ever, the blood and sweat pouring from Jake’s pores in the later scenes as visceral as they can surely get.

Undoubtedly a beautifully crafted film, Raging Bull has left me with a new found respect for DeNiro with the impact of Scorcese’s visuals packing the kind of punch LaMotta would have been proud of.

Blu-Ray Extras

Perhaps the best word to describe the extras on this disc is “comprehensive”. Although it ports them over from the 2005 Region One release, there is still much to enjoy here.

As well as a commentary from Scorcese, the Cast and Crew yack track is a hotch potch of soundbites from different contributors, each recorded separately. Points for completism are awarded for the inclusion of John Turturro, his uncredited cameo in the film lasting for all of two seconds. His stories from his time on set and at the premiere are priceless.

A third commentary allows the real Jake LaMotta to speak, offering fantastic insight into what is seen on screen.

A number of documentaries help build up an idea of what went into the making of the film and there’s little doubt that this was a real labour of love for all involved.

  • Commentary by Director Martin Scorsese and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker
  • Cast and Crew Commentary – Irwin Winkler, Robbie Robertson, Robert Chartoff, Theresa Saldana, John Turturro, Frank Warner, Michael Chapman and Cis Corman
  • Storytellers Commentary with Mardik Martin, Paul Schrader, Jason Lustin and Jake Lamotta
  • Raging Bull: Before the Fight (The Writing, the Casting and Preproduction) (26:08)
  • Raging Bull: Inside the Ring (The Choreography of the Fight Scenes) (14:49)
  • Raging Bull: Outside the Ring (Behind-the-Scenes Stories on the Making of the Film) (27:19)
  • Raging Bull: After the Fight (The Sound Design, the Music, the Impact of the Film) (16:01)
  • The Bronx Bull (Making of Documentary) (27:52)
  • De Niro Vs LaMotta (Shot by Shot Comparison in the Ring) (3:48)
  • La Motta Defends Title (Newsreel Footage) (0:57)
  • Original Theatrical Trailer (3:55)

Blu-Ray Specifications

  • Release Date: 9 February
  • Run time: 129 mins
  • Cert: 18
  • Price: £19.99
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