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Featured Blu-ray Review: Raging Bull

February 17th, 2011

Raging Bull - Blu-ray - Buy from Amazon

Raging Bull earned nearly universal praise, eight Oscar nominations, two wins, including Robert De Niro's second win and fourth nomination in just six years. It made its Blu-ray debut just two years ago, but now its coming out on an anniversary edition. And while most people already have a set opinion on the movie, one that I don't think I'm going to be able to change, the question is, is it worth upgrading?

The Movie

Robert De Niro plays Jake La Motta, a boxer who first came to fame in the 1940s and was the first person to defeat Sugar Ray Robinson. Jake La Motta was a volatile boxer who preferred a brawling approach to the game. That is to say, he was more than willing to take a hit if it meant being able to deliver a few of his own and few were able to absorb as much punishment as Jake. But despite his success, he wasn't able to get a title shot for the longest time because the mob was working hard to block him from getting a championship fight. He tries to get to the top on his own, while his brother thinks he should play ball.

This film also spends an equal amount of time on his personal life, which was equally volatile. When the story begins, he's in a marriage that can only be described as violently dysfunctional, then he meets Vickie... who is 15. He's instantly infatuated, despite her age, and within a few years they are married. However, their marriage is just as dysfunctional his first and Jake is jealous of any man she comes in contact with. As his career winds down, his personal life mirrors his boxing decline.

At the moment, the film has only one negative review on Rotten Tomatoes out of 56 total reviews. And quite frankly, it's not a very negative review. It's more a complaint about the lack of sympathetic characters and the dubious box office potential. That reviewer was correct in both regards. I have a funny feeling watching this movie is about as enjoyable as being in the ring for ten rounds with Jake La Motta. There's not a single character in this film I could connect with on an emotional level. That said, there's not a frame of this movie that isn't masterfully done. This is especially true of the boxing scenes, which to this day are arguably the best filmed boxing scenes ever. Even if you don't like boxing, you will be impressed.

The Extras

All of the extras from the previous Blu-ray are back, including not one, not two, but three audio commentary tracks. There's a feature-length documentary on the film, another shorter featurette on the film, and two newsreel clips. The first of these compares Robert De Niro to the actual Jake La Motta, making his performance even more impressive.

New to this edition are four featurettes, starting with Marty and Bobby. This 14-minute featurette is about the making of the movie, specifically how Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese worked to get the film made. (It was Robert De Niro's baby and he did a lot of work to get it made, both creatively and physically.) Reflections on a Classic is a 12-minute retrospective with several directors talking about how the movie affected them. Remembering Jake is an 11-minute interview featurette with about a dozen boxers discussing Jake La Motta. Marty on Film has Martin Scorsese talking about how he came into the film business. The final new extra is Cathy Moriarty being interviewed by Johnny Carson

Add up the old and the new and you have nearly 3 hours of extras, not counting the three audio commentary tracks and the DVD copy of the movie.

As for the tech specs, the film's black & white cinematography looks as good as you can expect given the aesthetic choices made. The filmmakers went for a gritty realism, and not just gritty by old fashion, since much of it took place in the 1940s. Because of this, there are scenes that are less than reference quality in that regard. On other hand, overall the movie looks fantastic. I did have an issue with the audio. The dialogue seemed to be low when compared to the fight scenes. Obviously people talking will be quieter than people boxing, but it was to such a degree that it was distracting at times.

The Verdict

Raging Bull is a movie that should be in everyone's collection. The 30th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is loaded with extras and minor quibble with the audio aside, it is a must have.

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Filed under: Video Review, Raging Bull