Raging Bull – Special Edition (1980)

by | Dec 3, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

Raging Bull – Special Edition (1980)

Starring:  Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty, Joe Pesci
Studio:  MGM
Video:  1.85:1 Widescreen Enhanced, B&W
Audio:  DD 5.1, DD 2.0, French Mono, Spanish Mono
Extras:  Audio Commentary (3- Director and Editor; Cast &
Crew; Storytellers), Featurettes (4- Before The Fight (25 min); Inside
The Ring (14 min); Outside The Ring (27 min); After The Fight (15
min)), Trailer, Rocky Anthology Trailer, Making Of Documentary (27
min), Newsreel Footage of Jake La Motta (1 min), Shot-by-Shot
Comparison (3 min)
Length:  129 minutes
Rating:  ****1/2

Robert De Niro won an Academy Award for Best Actor with his portrayal
of boxer Jake La Motta, in what has been called the best film of the
1980s, Raging Bull.  The film chronicles the life of the boxer as
he struggles with his early career, his rise to celebrity status, and
his destructive decline.  The film is based on the autobiography
of the same title which De Niro had discovered in 1973 while filming
The Godfather.  He spent many years championing the idea of the
film and met with many setbacks and holdovers till it finally became a
reality near the end of the decade.  He had approached Martin
Scorcese whom he had a previous working relationship with, but Scorcese
was never able to get his head around the project.  He didn’t
understand boxing and it wasn’t till during the film that he began to
realize that the way to portray the ring was not just as a sport, but
as a symbol of the fight for one’s own existence.

The research conducted for the film was immense—from the writers, to
the actors, to the skilled staff who took on all the other aspects of
the film—camerawork, sound effects, lighting, etc.  The film took
home two awards, but could have received more had it not been up
against another superb film of the day, Ordinary People.  The cast
came together in a most unusual (or typical if you consider how most
Hollywood casts come about) way.  Joe Pesci was not a regular in
the business, but the power and sadness given to his character is
unforgettable.  He is also responsible for getting the film’s
female lead, Cathy Moriarty.  Her demure, restrained performance
is in sharp contrast to the aggressive “bull” played by De Niro. 
The painstaking effort by De Niro is clearly evident by all those who
watch the film.  The attention paid to movement and physical
appearance was amazing.  De Niro spent weeks working with La Motta
to learn his style of boxing.  In addition, he gained 60 pounds to
enact the later scenes depicting La Motta’s nightclub act and
appearance later in life.

From the first moments of the film there is no doubt as to its special
status.  Scorcese selected particular classical music that sets
the tone for the film and the choice to film in black in white is a
bold move that works amazingly well.  Many of the scenes are
violent and even gory, but contradictorily are captured in a very
stylized manner that at the same time creates an uncanny realism. 
It would seem strange to characterize a film of this sort as beautiful,
but in many scenes it is just that—yet repulsive at the same
time.  Character sympathy would normally be difficult with regards
to this particular type of character—an abuser of himself and others,
yet the viewer finds himself rooting for the raging bull.  The
scenes of boxing are counterbalanced with lots of family drama and
other character interaction.  The success of the dramatic elements
of the film mean the action sequences are icing on the cake—though to
discount them would be a shame.  In many ways students of film
could learn much from Raging Bull. 

The extras are extensive and offer a multitude of interviews and
explanation of the film from all angles.  Whereas many special
features only offer commentary from a few of the “bigger names,” in
this case just about everyone who could be interviewed was—included
Schoonmaker, Scorcese, Pesci, Moriarty, La Motta, writers, producers,
etc.  Even listening to the sound engineer’s commentary is a
delight.  One of the differences that can be had from the extras
is the clear degree of attachment and devotion to the film of those
involved—much more so than your average film.  It seems they all
realize that they have done something of which they can be proud.

From the beautiful use of music, light, direction, editing, effects,
story, and acting, this is one of the films that will move people and
make them think about the power of film in a whole new way.  It’s
hard to imagine the heart and soul of Jake La Motta presented in any
other (better) manner.

-Brian Bloom

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