Reviewing films that have become iconic and considered a classic among the large population is always an interesting task. Am I really going to have an insight that has yet to be said or even cared about? RAGING BULL is an amazing piece of work that is technically superior in achievement. See nothing new there. However, I will offer up this one differing opinion, it is not the best film of all time nor is it Scorsese’s best work.
The story follows former Middle Weight boxing champ Jake LaMotta (Robert De Niro) from 1941 to 1964. Along with his manager/brother Joey (Joe Pesci), he works to get a title fight. Highlighting many of the fights with Sugar Ray Robinson, RAGING BULL is about a boxer but not about boxing. Unfortunately, emotional destructive behavior like jealousy, anger and suspicion toward everyone, specifically his wife Vickie (Cathy Moriarty), consumes his life leading him down a lonely corrupt life. Using his physical toughness in the ring helped him be one of the best, but outside the ring, LaMotta remained rage-driven and abusive.
RAGING BULL is number 24 on the American Film Institutes top 100 films. When AFI reconstructed their list for their ten-year anniversary they put it at an over credited number 4 spot. The film lost the Best Picture race at the Academy Awards in 1980. Many believe this is the worst travesty. This is the film that most people widely hail as Scorseses best achievement. While technically sound, I thought the film missed a lot in the heart category. While De Niro clearly deserves all his received praise for his performance I did not care a lick for Jake LaMotta as a character. Within the context of the film, he was a terrible person that lacked redeemable qualities to sympathize with for the entire picture.
With that said, De Niro is absolutely amazing. He embodies this role figuratively and literally. Getting in the best shape of his life then gaining a ton of weight, he plays LaMotta at his best and worst ages. Internally you see a quiet struggle of jealous fear and torment. I will go so far to say this is one of best performances in history. Joe Pesci is no slouch himself. He is a perfect counterpart to De Niro. It’s tough to believe this was their first film together because their chemistry is as if they’ve known each other for years.
Scorsese is definitely a master when putting this film together. Wisely shot in black & white, the film feels gritty, bleak and hopeless. Within the confines of the ring we are put through the punishment differently than other boxing films. But outside the ring it is nearly unbearable watching his self-destruction. Everything from the neighborhood, apartments and lighting feels extremely authentic. Scorsese is thoughtful and deliberate making him one of our best directors. And yes, Martin should have probably won Best Director for his achievement on RAGING BULL.
I don’t want to sound like I don’t like the movie. On the contrary, I think it’s technically amazing. But the credit it receives as one of the absolute greatest of all time is giving a little too much credit. In order for a film to hit that status it must make me feel a little more than frustration about a character’s choices. I may be splitting hairs here debating the order of greatness in which RAGING BULL should be hailed, but wanted to offer a slightly new look at a remarkable film.
Video: (Widescreen 1.85:1) I’ve seen better transfers.
Audio: (5.1 DTS-HD MA) The sound levels are very uneven. Some of the dialogue is barely audible while the fights are blaring loud.
Filmmakers’ Commentary – Director Martin Scorsese and Editor Thelma Schoonmaker: A nice technical commentary that true fans of the film and of Scorsese will thoroughly enjoy. Both know their stuff and speak conversationally.
Cast & Crew Commentary – Irwin Winkler, Robbie Robertson, Robert Chartoff, Theresa Saldana, John Turturro, Frank Warner, Michael Chapman and Cis Corman: Each of these people give their personal experiences and stories working on the film. Some are interesting and some are not. It’s definitely hit and miss.
Storytellers’ Commentary – Mardik Martin, Paul Schrader, Jason Lustig and Jake LaMotta: Rightfully titled these guys all tell stories (probably a little embellished) while the film plays. The best is an interview with LaMotta being very frank about his fighting experience.
Marty and Bobby (13:35): A brief enjoyable look at the relationship between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. They discuss being from the same neighborhood growing up and their different projects together.
Raging Bull: Reflections on a Classic (12:15): Four modern day directors gush over the technical greatness of the film and its influence.
Remembering Jake (11:04): Every so often members of the Veteran Boxers Association of New York gather together to eat, drink and reminisce. This is a taping of one of those evenings while they discuss personal stories involving Jake LaMotta.
Marty on Film (10:30): Martin Scorsese discusses a little about the progression of film and what he connected with making RAGING BULL.
Cathy Moriarty on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, March 27, 1981 (6:42): She is an absolute bore of an interview but Carson is always great.
Raging Bull: Fight Night (1:22:32): Divided into four parts this is a deep look with lots of interviews following the entire making of process of the film. Including, adapting the screenplay, casting, shooting within the ring, shooting everything outside the ring and final reactions and results of the final product, this featurette misses nothing. A lot of key moments from some of the other special features are included here so I would recommend this one over all the others.
The Bronx Bull (27:54): Interviews with boxer, Jake LaMotta and the film and Oscar winning film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, about the De Niro and Scorsese’s techniques and dedication. This is an insightful look for young filmmakers.
De Niro vs. LaMotta (3:47): Shot by shot comparisons of the film next to actual live footage and real photos of LaMotta and his fights. The similarities are quite impressive.
LaMotta Defends Title (1:00): A news recap of the live footage from the fight he came back to win with thirteen seconds to spare.
Original Theatrical Trailer