Following the release of Taxi Driver (1976), Martin Scorsese’s life and career headed towards a crossroads. Despite some critical praise with his follow up film, the musical New York, New York (1977), its box office disappointment drove the director into a drug fueled depression that almost took his life. Brought back from the brink by friend and frequent collaborator Robert De Niro, Scorsese decided to devote his energies to what he believed would be his final film, a biopic on the life of boxer Jake LaMotta, the Raging Bull. Released on DVD and Blu-ray over the years by MGM, Criterion – which had released the movie on laserdisc – has given the movie its UHD Blu-ray debut.
The Production: 5/5
In the 1940’s, aspiring boxer Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) is making a name for himself as a tenacious and tough pugilist in the ring. However, the toughest fights he has are outside the ring, where he not only has to fight the pressure from organized crime – represented by Salvy Batts (Frank Vincent) – but also his inner demons, which start to take a toll on the relationships with his brother/manager Joey (Joe Pesci) and his second wife Vikki (Cathy Moriarty). As the spotlight dims, Jake’s obsessive jealously and self-destructive rage finally causes these strained ties to rupture and for him to hit rock bottom, leaving the once world champion middleweight boxer to realize that the biggest opponent he has in his life outside the ring is himself.
One of the greatest films about boxing ever made, Raging Bull transcends its roots and is a visceral look at a man who was as rough as the sport he excelled in. Despite never showing much interest in sports or boxing, director Martin Scorsese delivers an immersive and unflinching look at the violent side of the sport as well as LaMotta’s self-destructive paranoia and machismo. All of this is pulled off with a terrific crew behind the camera, including cinematographer Michael Chapman, editor Thelma Schoonmaker (who won an Oscar for her work here and began a longstanding collaboration with Scorsese that exists to this day) and sound editing maestro Frank Warner, all of whom bring a fresh and brutal vitality to a sport that had been filmed in Hollywood previously, but never with such stunning impact like this. Best of all, Scorsese never shies away from showing some of LaMotta’s demons, revealing him as a deeply flawed human being behind the champion’s façade; this is pulled off with some terrific acting from the three leads in the film. To sum it all up, Raging Bull captures the stunning violence of boxing in all forms – physical, emotional and spiritual, not just inside and outside the ring – and has understandably become one of America’s greatest films in the last half century; it also signaled the resurrection of Martin Scorsese’s career and began his ascension to legendary filmmaker status.
Fighting hard to get Scorsese to make the movie when he first discovered LaMotta’s autobiography, Robert De Niro deserved his Best Actor Oscar win here portraying the intensely flawed Jake; the real life LaMotta served as a consultant and trainer for De Niro during production. Making his first major film appearance here, Joe Pesci earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for playing Jake’s well-meaning brother and manager Joey; he would later earn Oscar gold for Goodfellas (1990). Making her film debut here, Cathy Moriarty snagged the film’s third acting Oscar nod (for Best Supporting Actress) as Vikki, Jake’s second wife who would bear witness to his decline and fall (and would be the recipient of some of Jake’s rage); her career would be interrupted by a car accident a couple years later but would resume acting with a role in Donald Cammell’s cult horror White of the Eye (1987). This trio is the film’s beating heart, but they’re ably supported by Frank Vincent as Salvy Batts, Nicolas Colasanto as mob boss Tommy Como (quite a far cry from his best known role as “Coach” Ernie Pantusso on TV’s Cheers), Theresa Saldana as Joey’s second wife Lenora and Johnny Barnes as the most prominent of Jake’s opponents, Sugar Ray Robinson; listen for Martin Scorsese’s voice as the Barizon stagehand and look for John Turturro seated at one of the Webster Hall tables (it was his first movie role).
3D Rating: NA
The film is presented in its original 1:85:1 aspect ratio for this release, taken from a new 4K digital master created for this release and approved by director Martin Scorsese; on the 4K UHD Blu-ray, the film is presented in HDR, while the Blu-ray presents the movie in SDR. Film grain, gray scale and fine details appear to be faithfully represented while showing minimal cases of issues like scratches, dirt, tears or vertical lines present; on the color home movie footage, the scratches, tears and color fade are a deliberate aesthetic choice, so don’t be alarmed. Overall, this release is likely the best the movie will ever look on home video and easily surpasses all previous releases.
The film’s original surround soundtrack is presented on a DTS-HD Master Audio track on both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray discs for this release. Dialogue, sound mix and source music (including a memorably haunting use of Pietro Mascagni’s music for Cavalleria rusticana as a recurring theme) are all faithfully presented with minimal cases of distortion, flutter, hissing, crackling or popping present here. This release also likely represents the best the movie will ever sound on home video.
Special Features: 5/5
On both UHD Blu-ray and Blu-ray discs
Commentary by director Martin Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker – Originally recorded for the 1990 Criterion laserdisc, Scorsese and Schoonmaker share details and memories of making the movie.
Commentary by cinematographer Michael Chapman, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, casting director Cis Corman, music supervisor Robbie Robertson, actors Theresa Saldana and John Turturro and sound effects supervisor Frank Warner – Recorded for the 2004 MGM Special Edition DVD, Chapman, Robertson, Warner, Corman, Winkler and Chartoff go over specific details on the casting and technical aspects of the film while Saldana and Turturro share their memories of working on the movie.
Commentary by boxer Jake LaMotta, his nephew Jason Lustig and screenwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader – Also originally recorded for the 2004 MGM Special Edition DVD, LaMotta and Lustig talk about his life and career while Martin and Schrader talk about some of the challenges in adapting LaMotta’s life story for the big screen.
On Blu-ray disc only
Pour Everything In: An Ode to Raging Bull (25:23) – The first of the two visual essays accompanying this release has film critic Geoffrey O’Brien dissecting the visual and aural aesthetics of the movie.
Gloves Off: The Acting Triumvirate of Raging Bull (17:51) – The second visual essay has film critic Sheila O’Malley breaking down the performances of Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci and Cathy Moriarty.
Fight Night (1:22:58) – Made for the 2004 MGM Special Edition DVD release, this feature-length documentary looks at the making of movie from pre-production to release; featuring interviews with Scorsese, De Niro, Pesci, producers Irwin Winkler and Robert Chartoff, screenwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader, cinematographer Michael Chapman, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, actor Frank Vincent and sound effects supervisor Frank Warner.
1981 Belgian TV interview with Cathy Moriarty and Vikki LaMotta (7:42)
1990 TV interview with Jake LaMotta (5:34)
Marty & Bobby (13:25) – This brief featurette from the 2010 MGM Blu-ray focuses on the collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro.
Marty on Film (13:25) – Another carryover featurette from the 2010 MGM Blu-ray, this one has Scorsese sharing his views on film and cinema as a whole.
Robert De Niro on Acting (14:42) – Audio excerpts from a 1980 AFI seminar with the actor on his techniques.
Remembering Jake (10:55) – Also carried over from the 2010 MGM Blu-ray, this brief featurette showcases members of the Veteran Boxers Association of New York sharing memories of Jake La Motta and their feelings on the film.
Theatrical Trailer (2:09)
Booklet feat. essays by poet Robin Robertson and film critic Glenn Kenny
Despite some mixed reviews and just recouping its production costs at the box office upon initial release, Raging Bull has gone on to be considered one the best movies ever made about sports and a high watermark for its director and star. Criterion has excelled yet again here with a superb HD transfer and a great selection of special features new and old. Very highly recommended and absolutely worth upgrading from all previous home video releases.
Amazon.com: Raging Bull (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]: Robert De Niro, Cathy Moriarty-Gentile, Joe Pesci, Frank Vincent, Nicholas Colasanto, Theresa Saldana, Mario Gallo, Frank Adonis, Joseph Bono, Frank Topham, Martin Scorsese: Movies & TV
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