Blu-Ray Review: Raging Bull

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It can be a tricky business reviewing films such as Raging Bull.  There is a certain expectation that comes with writing about these “masterpieces,” and Heaven forbid you don’t agree with the rest of society.  It’s been 30 years since Raging Bull was released, and since that time, it has taken on a sort-of mythic status.  In writing a review such as this, you have to acknowledge that fact while being able to simply review the film.  Basically, this is my long-winded way of saying that Martin Scorsese made a terrific film, but one that doesn’t deserve the pedestal it has been placed upon.

I suppose my biggest problem with the film comes from the narrative itself.  Yes, it’s a true story.  And yes, it’s an extraordinary recreation of one man’s life.  But is his life really THAT compelling?  I would argue that it isn’t.  While the story may be true, it’s still one that we’ve seen a thousand times.  In telling the story of a superstar whose personal demons cause him to lose it all, we as a viewer are taken on the same journey we’ve been on several times before.  Whether it be in film, music, sports, etc., this story has been told.

Having said all that, Robert DeNiro brilliantly captures the inner turmoil of boxer Jake La Motta, a fiercely violent competitor who struggles to leave his intensity in the ring.  We witness the chapters of his life from 1941 to 1964, and in this time, we see him rise to prominance in the boxing world, and plummet to becoming his own pathetic punchline in his attempts at stand-up comedy.

I’m sure this has been said many times before, but while this is a film about a boxer, it is definitely not a film about boxing.  It is about this man’s life.  He is a violent, suspicious and angry man.  The back of the box describes La Motta as having “psychological and sexual complexities.”  He definitely has psychological and sexual issues, but I don’t necessarily agree that he was all that complex.  There were definitely some anger issues, but to me, he comes across as just kind of a jerk.  Granted, that may be a massive over-simplification, but I just couldn’t get behind this character.

Now, having said all of that, I have to admit that the film itself is a technical marvel.  Shot in beautiful black and white, the picture is just stunning.  The transfer on this Blu-Ray is meticulous, and by far, the best the film has ever looked.  Scorsese is without a doubt, a master behind the camera.  He takes the audience right into the ring with the boxers and really puts everyone in the midst of the action.  Bobbing and weaving around the actors, you feel as if you are right there with them, and it’s a fascinating place to be.

Not only is he a master of the camera, but he was also able to get brilliant performances out of his actors.  DeNiro infamously “became” La Motta, transforming his body to match the given moment of his story.  By the end of the film, when he has become a pudgy, pathetic nightclub act, it’s hard to believe it’s the same actor.  His performance is the epitome of method acting, and he absolutely deserved the Best Actor Oscar that he won for the role.

This performance gets a lot of attention in the newly-released 30th Anniversary Blu-Ray.  In fact, there is an incredible wealth of material that makes this a must-own for any film buff.  I may not have given the movie itself the written standing ovation that most critics have, but I have to commend this amazing release.  As I mentioned above, the picture looks great, and the 5.1 Dolby Digital, and Dolby Surround sound terrific.  As for the extras, there is an incredible amount of material.

To start, there are three commentary tracks.  The first is a very conversational track with Scorsese and his editor Thelma Schoonmaker.  Then there is a track with several members of the cast and crew, and finally, there is a track with the real people the film is portraying, including La Motta himself.

This particular set includes four new features that have not been released before.  In total, these run a little over 45 minutes, and include “Marty and Bobby,” “Raging Bull: Reflections on a Classic,” “Remembering Jake,” and finally, “Marty on Film.”  These are pretty much exactly what they sound like, with various people looking back on both the film itself, the relationship between Scorsese and DeNiro, the evolution of film itself and Raging Bull’s role in that, etc.  It’s a neat group of extras, and while it’s not very technical, it gives perspective to the film itself.

The most random extra on the set is Cathy Moriarty’s 03/27/81 appearance on The Tonight Show.  I enjoyed seeing this from a historical perspective, but found it odd that they included something so inconsequential for such a substantial film.  On the flip side, the best feature is a fascinating documentary called “Raging Bull: Fight Night.”  This segement is divided into 4 parts, and it covers EVERYTHING you could ever want to know about the film.  Weaving the entire tapestry that is Raging Bull, this is the type of feature worth buying a Blu-Ray for.

Next up is The Bronx Bull, a “behind-the-scenes featurette” that runs just shy of half an hour.  It’s an interesting feature, and definitely worth watching.  After this, they’ve included a shot-by-shot comparison of La Motta’s real fights and the recreations of the film.  It’s incredibly impressive to see just how accurate the film is in this regard.  It’s very obvious that a lot of work went into every detail of making this film.  Finally, rounding out the extras is a piece of vintage newsreel footage from one of La Motta’s fights.

And that is the 30th anniversary of Raging Bull.  While I might not find the film as worthy as most, I definitely appreciate it on a technical level.  After watching these extras, there is no denying that Scorsese and DeNiro are masters of their craft.  While I wish I could have identified with the story a little bit more, I still found watching this Blu-Ray to be an amazing experience.