To refer to Raging Bull as ‘a film about boxing’ would be a gross understatement. Despite being centred on the world of the boxer, Jake La Motta, there isn’t really a lot of boxing in the film. Raging Bull is more of a character piece. It charts the rise and spectacular fall of a boxer. Whilst some of the criticisms of the film at the time of release were overly harsh, it has (rightly so) gone on to become a favourite of critics everywhere.
A lot of people remember Raging Bull for De Niro’s drastic weight gain in the final act, where he put on a remarkable amount of weight in order to portray Jake La Motta in later life. Whilst this one particular method is fairly spectacular, De Niro really manages to get under the skin of Jake La Motta throughout, and gives off what is arguably one of his greatest performances.
For one thing, the film quickly establishes that Jake La Motta is not a good person. He is both an animal in the ring and in his domestic life, where he constantly chastises his wife and is consumed by sexual jealousy towards anyone who even approaches her. De Niro manages to make the character repugnant, but at the same time allows the viewer to empathise with him when he is at his lowest.
The boxing scenes in the film are made to feel unflinching real due to Scorsese’s use of slow motion, flashbulb and point of view. The cinematography allows the viewer to experience the ring through the eyes of the boxer, and it is both visceral and terrifying.
The film was made towards the end of what I like to call Scorsese’s ‘Angry Young Men’ period, which several of his films throughout the 1970s would belong to, particularly Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. All three films feature Robert De Niro at his most terrifying, but Raging Bull is the most frightening, because it is based on a true story.
The black and white cinematography succeeds in not only making the film look more like the period in which it is set (the 1940s and 1950s), but when it is juxtaposed with home movie footage of the La Motta family (the actors, not the real family), it somehow makes the film feel more real.
Complementing De Niro’s central performance are some very strong performances, namely those of Cathy Moriarty as Jake’s wife, Vicki La Motta, and Joe Pesci as Jake’s bother, Joey. Moriarty’s character takes a torrent of abuse from Jake throughout and could easily have the viewer screaming, “Why don’t you leave him?” at the television at several parts of the film. But Moriarty manages to give depth to a character that even that most hardened brute would feel sympathy towards.
It’s even more impressive when you take into account that this is the first film that she had appeared in, and was nominated for an Oscar for her troubles.
Whilst Joe Pesci later became famous for his performances as sadistic sociopaths, this was one his early performances, but yet, it’s one of his best. There are times where he acts as if to calm his older brother, but there are times when he is just as violent as Jake. Raging Bull was also the first film where De Niro and Pesci worked together, and the chemistry between the two onscreen is palpable.
It is often the case that, when old films are released on Blu-ray, you needn’t bother buying it, as the difference between your DVD copy and the new release are few and far between. It is safe to say, however, that Raging Bull looks absolutely stunning in HD. It was a stunning film previously. But the contrasts of the black and white are really brought out on this transfer and the image is very sharp. Thankfully, the grain from the original film hasn’t been removed, as the overall feel of the film would probably have seriously suffered if it had been.
The sound is also very sharp, although the film does tend to go from very quiet to very loud. So, be careful if you’re watching it with the volume up. Saying that, it sounds fantastic and the score really does send chills up your spine
Whilst there isn’t a vast amount of difference between the extras on the 30th anniversary edition and the 20th anniversary edition, what is there is easily worth the asking price.
There are four new featurettes (all in HD): Marty & Bobby (a piece examining the working relationship between Scorsese and De Niro), Raging Bull: Reflections on a Classic (which sees directors such as Richard Kelly heap praise on the film), Remembering Jake (where those who can remember Jake La Motta reminisce), and Marty on Film (where Scorsese talks about how his love affair with film began).
All of the featurettes are captivating, albeit brief. There is also a segment from The Tonight Show where Jimmy Carson interviews Cathy Moriarty (in SD).
The rest of the extra features on the DVD, whilst all good, are available elsewhere and are all in standard definition.
Whether this is your first time seeing Raging Bull or if you’ve seen it a good few times (it was my fourth), the 30th anniversary edition is well worth investing in. It’s one of the most moving films that you will ever see, and it’s great to see a transfer that does it justice.
Raging Bull 30th Anniversary Special Edition is out now on Blu-ray and available from The Den Of Geek Store.
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