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The story of Jake LaMotta, a former middlweight boxing champion, whose reputation for tenacity and success in the ring was offset by his troubled domestic life: full of rage, jealousy, and suspicion--particulary towards his wife and manager/brother--which, in the end, left him destitute, alone, and seeking redemption.
For more about Raging Bull and the Raging Bull Blu-ray release, see Raging Bull Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 12, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Paul Schrader, Mardik Martin, Jake LaMotta
Starring: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana
» See full cast & crew
Raging Bull Blu-ray Review
A cinematic contender.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 12, 2011
In the past decade or so, director Martin Scorsese's work as a film preservationist has been more impressive than his efforts as a filmmaker— for as well-executed as they are, Shutter Island, The Departed, and The Aviator are all rather conventional—but it's undeniable that his early films are among the most influential and highly regarded of post-WWII American cinema, specifically the gritty troika of Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, and Raging Bull. The latter is arguably Scorsese' s best; much more than a simple boxing story—a la Rocky—Raging Bull is a dark character study of a man caught between his violent, sexually insecure id and self-destructive, guilt- laden superego. It's a suckerpunch of a film, at once lyrical and brutal, and it packs as big of a dramatic wallop today as it did in 1980. And, it should be said, upon its initial Blu-ray release in February 2009. Yes, MGM is hoping we'll double-dip for this new 30th Anniversary Edition of the film, which features the same high definition transfer and lossless audio track, but adds four new featurettes to the array of bonus materials. If you've already got a copy of the 2009 disc sitting on your shelf, I wouldn't bother upgrading—honestly, you can probably watch the new features online somewhere—but if you're new to the film, this is definitely the version to get.
Based loosely on a true story, Raging Bull charts the rise and tragic fall of Jake LaMotta (Robert DeNiro), a middleweight pugilist whose greatest opponent ultimately proves to be himself. Scorcese bookends the film in 1964 with LaMotta, overweight and long past his prime, rehearsing a rhyming monologue in a dingy nightclub greenroom: "And though I'm no Olivier, but if he fought Sugar Ray, he would say that the thing ain't the ring, it's the play. So give me a stage where this bull here can rage, and though I can fight, I'd much rather hear myself recite. That's entertainment." He's become a walking punchline, bloated and regretful, musing about his former glory days in a stand-up routine that also involves LaMotta reciting—as a placard for the evening's show proclaims—the works of Paddy Cheyefsky, Rod Serling, Shakespeare, Budd Schulberg, and Tennessee Williams. Schulberg's script for On the Waterfront provides LaMotta with a rueful summation of his life. At the end of the film, we see him staring into the mirror and repeating the words once spoken by Marlon Brando: "I coulda had class, I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."
LaMotta is much more than a bum; he's a brutal, near-psychopathic brawler whose deep sexual insecurities—and possible repression of hinted-at homoerotic urges—trigger bouts of jealous rage and indignation. At any moment he's liable to toss over the kitchen table or bust down a door. We follow his career from 1941 onward, watching as his matches in the ring are mirrored by battles at home that are just as violent. He's endlessly suspicious of his young bride, Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), and Scorsese's intimate point-of-view camerawork gives us access to LaMotta's fevered tunnel- vision, lingering on the way his wife's hand brushes across mob boss Tony Como's (Nicholas Colasanto) shoulder, and cutting to a slow-motion close- up when she says goodbye to the Mafioso with an innocent kiss. Como controls who will get a shot at the world championship title, and though LaMotta initially resists submitting to the Mafia's control, he eventually bows, intentionally throwing a fight and losing his dignity in the process. And while he does ultimately get his title match, he's never the same, driving his wife away, alienating his brother/manager Joey—a terrific, then- unknown Joe Pesci—and physically letting himself go.
To this day, Robert DeNiro's turn as LaMotta is the most forceful, painfully affecting, and literally transformative performance of his career. It was DeNiro who initially suggested the project to Scorsese—they also penned most of the final draft together, working off a script by Taxi Driver writer Paul Schrader—and the actor's dedication to the role is passionately uncompromising. Not only did he train with the real Jake LaMotta—who later claimed that DeNiro would've made a great middleweight—but he also gained over sixty pounds to play the boxer in his sluggish later years. I've never seen DeNiro more purely instinctual than when his LaMotta is trapped in a dark Florida jail cell, pounding his head and fists against the concrete walls, screaming why, why, why, and then collapsing in tears: "They call me an animal. I'm not an animal." You can't look away. Although LaMotta is an intensely unlikable character—abusive and obsessive, paranoid and bitter—DeNiro gets at an essential sympathetic truthfulness about the perils of bottled rage and shortsighted self-defeatism.
When Scorsese is on—as he is here—he's simply unparalleled. Raging Bull is a transportational piece of cinema, a dark exploration of the psyche and a brilliant example of style equaling and enhancing content. Any director could take LaMotta's story and turn it into a solid biopic, but Scorsese does so much more with the raw material. Even his handling of the boxing scenes is transcendent; he turns them into impressionistic nightmares, filled with whirling dervish camera movements, spattered in arterial bloodspray, and illuminated by strobing flashbulbs. He shifts the size of the ring between rounds and at one point even angles his lens over an open flame to give the air a shimmering, mirage-like effect. These aren't just fights, they're cataclysmic battles, with LaMotta pummeling away symbolically at his own interior demons.
Raging Bull Blu-ray, Video Quality
As far as I can tell, the 1080p/AVC encode used for this 30th Anniversary Edition is the same transfer that accompanied Raging Bull's February 2009 Blu-ray release. And while I still think this is an excellent, often stunning transfer, many of you probably recall hearing complaints about a thin translucent stripe—slightly brighter than the rest of the image—that would occasionally appear on the right side of the screen. Some people could see it, others couldn't. I'm here to report that the stripe is present on this edition, but—and this is important—it's barely and rarely, if ever, noticeable. In fact, during my initial viewing of the film, I didn't spot it once; I had to pause the movie during certain darker sequences and bump up the gamma and brightness settings on my screen to ridiculous levels to even make it visible. I suspect that if your TV is reasonably calibrated—that is, not on "store display" mode or otherwise boosted—you probably won't ever even notice the issue. I did manage to capture a screenshot of the stripe—see above—but as you can tell, it's quite hard to make out. (Note that the screenshots in our reviews are pure captures of the digital info from the disc. They aren't routed through a TV first or tampered with on a computer. What you see is what you get, essentially, although the shots might obviously look different on your television depending on your calibration settings.) I say all of that to say this: I don't know where the stripe comes from—whether it was somehow on the negative itself (unlikely) or was introduced somewhere in the transfer/encode process—but it shouldn't be a problem if you keep your brightness settings at a normal level.
It would be a shame to let this minor issue hold you back from buying this disc, as Raging Bull looks simply beautiful on Blu-ray. The film's stark, evocative cinematography has never looked better—the grain structure is rich and untouched by DNR, clarity is strong, and the black and white gradation is perfectly balanced, with deep, dense shadows, crisp but rarely overblown whites, and a smooth gradient of grays. Basically, you get a sense that the image is true-to-source, and while the picture isn't the sharpest you've ever seen—it's really not meant to be—there's plenty of fine detail visible in the actors' faces, hair, and period clothing. Likewise, there are no compression issues or digital mishaps to spoil the mood. Well, except for that barely-there stripe. And really, if your screen is set up properly, you'll probably never even see it.
Raging Bull Blu-ray, Audio Quality
I have no reservations at all about the film's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which does a fine job reproducing Scorsese's very deliberate, jarring, and sometimes impressionistic sound design. Fight scenes are the most surreal; as the director's signature flashbulbs pop and crackle with exaggerated intensity and blow after blow lands with the thick, leather-on-skin pummeling sound of punching gloves, other noises are intentionally reduced to a low murmur, effectively putting us inside Jake La Motta's tunnel-visioned consciousness. The rear channels are only sparsely and selectively used, but you will hear airy New York City ambience, the light drizzle of rain, and the cheers and jeers of the crowd when called for. All of this is accompanied by a memorable soundtrack of classical pieces and period tunes, and the music sounds excellent, with clarity and substantial presence. Dialogue does occasionally seem a bit low out of the center channel, but never to the point of distraction or unintelligibility. A variety of subtitle options are available, and they appear in white, easy to read lettering.
Raging Bull Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The 30th Anniversary Edition of the film includes all the special features of the 2009 version, plus four new featurettes exclusive to this Blu-ray release.
Raging Bull Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
As one of the best films of the 1980s and, for my money, the best of Scorsese and DeNiro's careers, Raging Bull definitely deserves—nay, commands!—a spot on your movie shelf. If you bought the film when it first came out on Blu-ray in 2009, I wouldn't bother with this release—the only new additions are four short featurettes—but if don't have this veritable masterpiece yet, the 30th Anniversary Edition is the way to go. Highly recommended!
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Raging Bull Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Raging Bull: 30th Anniversary Edition - May 15, 2011
Starting today and for a week, Amazon is offering the Raging Bull: 30th Anniversary Edition for $12.49 (58% off MSRP). The price tracker shows that this is the cheapest the Blu-ray release has been. This offer is valid through May 21.
• Raging Bull 30th Anniversary Blu-ray Announced - December 8, 2010
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, in conjunction with MGM Home Entertainment, has announced Raging Bull: 30th Anniversary Edition for Blu-ray release on January 11, 2011, in a BD/DVD combo. This Martin Scorsese movie had already been released on Blu-ray ...
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