STUDIO: MGM (BUY IT FROM CHUD.COM)
RUNNING TIME: 128 minutes
- DVD & Blu-ray
- 3 Commentaries with Scorsese, Schoonmaker, Chapman (D.P.), Chartoff and Winkler (Producers), La Motta himself, Paul Schrader, and many more.
- A Feature-Film’s worth of documentaries:
- Before The Fight (26m)
- Insides The Ring (15m)
- Outside The Ring (27m)
- After The Fight (15m)
- The Bronx Bull (28m)
- De Niro Vs. LaMotta (2m)
- La Motta Defends Title (1m)
- Theatrical Trailer (2m)
Martin Scorsese & Robert De Niro, along with writers Paul Schrader & Mardik Martin, Joe Pesci, Cathy Moriarty, Frank Vincent
An unknockdownable prize fighter with a wicked bout of insecurity manages great success in the ring while his personal life takes an inversely proportional spiral into the dumps.
Raging Bull needs no defense, apology, or explanation at this point and any film that was so instantly (if not universally) well-regarded probably never did. It is a transcendentally beautiful film centered around an uncannily focused performance and a thematic undercurrent that is primal in its simplicity. It was called a masterpiece and the best of its year upon release by some, and many of those same critics seemed to spend the following ten years just waiting for the 80s to end so they could declare it the best of the decade.
Watching it well over a quarter-century later, one is struck by how completely timeless Raging Bull remains, and one wonders if it will ever truly age. The production is high-quality, constructed with filmmaking techniques that still register as innovative, free, and savagely intense. The production design, acting, and directing are some of the best ever assembled, but it’s that slick black and white photography and a perfect period soundtrack that seems to extract Raging Bull from the normal timeline of film and place it somewhere outside, a timeless part of the pantheon. There is nothing about this film that takes place in the 40s and 50s to indicate that it was shot in the late 70s- the dancing chiaroscuro captured amidst beautiful film grain could have been shot in 2010 or 1969 with equal believability. This chronologically freed feeling just makes the people and their surroundings seem all the more vivid.
What aspect of this film could be praised more effusively or in a manner that the hundreds of thousands, the millions of words written about Raging Bull have not already covered? This is the kind of film that inspires anyone who witnesses it, and critics are challenged to write greater reviews while filmmakers are challenged to make better movies- it has the ripple effect of a pebble dropped into a lake (or perhaps a boulder into a bathtub would be more apt). Ultimately the pairing of Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese though… the magic of that relationship can’t be overstated. La Motta as portrayed by De Niro is, as the title suggests, an animal. He’s not complicated or particularly three-dimensional, but rather acts as a force of physical brutality driven wholly by insecurity. When the ring is no longer kind to him and his jealousies can’t be beaten into his opponents anymore, he switches to standup so that he may verbally strike those around him in the guise of comedy- an art he is less adept at than fisticuffs. All of that said his personality is that of a fallen electrical wire flopping around in the street, all voltage and danger for anyone who dares step near.
How can you render a man who possesses virtually no shading at all? You let one of the finest actors alive portray him with pure honesty, that’s how. And then rather than caging the performance you open up the film around it and let every shot and photographic trick in the book show us what he sees and how he sees it. When his wife speaks with another man, you slow it down and force the same irrational importance onto it that La Motta’s insecure brain does. When he’s in the ring you fill the screen with clipped, up-close-and-personal jabs of brutality that do the best possible job of making a viewer feel like they’re in there taking and dealing the punishment You find all the little violent details of a fighting environment and you fill the screen with them- the dripping blood, the spurting veins, the exploding magnesium of the flashbulbs all supported by the crunching meat and shattering glass of the soundtrack. It’s all a symphony of the senses from the point of view of a man with no middle ground.
Casting the mold for the Christian Bales of later years, De Niro famously had production paused so he could gain enough weight to convincingly play La Motta in his post-boxing years. It’s obvious De Niro did not depend on the extra weight to take his character to the pathetic depths he reaches, but likely did so his body could catch up to his performance. The reality of the schlubby, physically impotent La Motta does a lot to strip away the almost equine beauty that his former athlete’s poise and build lent to an otherwise barbaric person. Stricken with an unshakable Madonna/whore complex and possessed of no grace but that of violence in a ring, he can’t relate to man or woman- his concept of power and sex warps his every relationship. A man like that can only destroy what threatens him, or what he doesn’t understand. At his lowest and most private point –when he sits in jail for corrupting young women in his club– he beats the walls and wails at his misfortune. Later we are left with a quote that perhaps suggests we should not judge La Motta, and they we are not capable of categorizing him as a sinner, the quote ending with “once I was blind, and now I can see.” I can only ask, what worse condemnation is there than to be a clear illustration to your fellow man of what they most certainly should not be?
IT’S PLACE IN THE PANTHEON
Sealed. Not a year goes by that Raging Bull isn’t put on one list or another declaring it among the greatest films ever made. In many ways Raging Bull can be seen as a grand punctuation mark on the early work of Scorsese’s career- a fact made happier with the hindsight that the best (or the just-as-good) was yet to come.
KEEPER, RENTER, OR AVOIDER?
This edition of Raging Bull re-purposes a lot of the special features from the previous special edition, but there is absolutely no reason a respectable Blu-ray collection should be without a copy of this masterpiece. The special features and commentaries remain plentiful and informative, and linked to the most beautiful version of this film you could possibly screen outside of a theater. The transfer is clean, vivid, and rich without sacrificing the film grain that gives every single frame such energy. The mix remain beautiful, one of the best ever, and it’s been well ported to this edition.
Don’t settle for a 1080p stream or, even worse, a Blu-ray rip from the internet or on-demand. Sure, you can get the same resolution from a download, but you’ll never come close to touching the data rate that a physical disc in a physical player can deliver- and you want every single, true-blue pixel of this film rather than the made-up mush that a compressed HD file would give you. This kind of film in this kind of quality is the reason Blu-ray needs to exist for many years to come.
It’s still one of the absolute greats. If you buy Blu-rays, you should own this edition of this film. If you ever plan on buying Blu-rays, you should own this edition and you can keep watching the included DVD until your ass upgrades.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars
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