dvd review: STILL RAGING

The other night, my wife and I sat down to watch the new 30th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull. I could scarcely believe it’s been three decades since we first saw it, start to finish, and I felt some trepidation, as I always do when revisiting a great movie of the past: will it hold up or disappoint after all this time?

Rest assured, Raging Bull is every bit as vibrant—and searing—as it was the day it debuted in 1980. Scorsese dares to take his time, adopting an almost relaxed pace as we get to know Jake La Motta (played by an extraordinary Robert De Niro), his brother and partner Joey (a perfectly cast Joe Pesci), and the beautiful woman named Vickie (a remarkably poised Cathy Moriarty) who catches his eye and becomes his wife. The cumulative effect of these scenes, punctuated by La Motta’s punishing prizefights, is devastating. The sequences in the ring, photographed in stunning black & white by Michael Chapman, are in a class by themselves. I normally have difficulty with movies that present an unsympathetic protagonist, but Raging Bull is the—

—exception to the rule: Jake is something of a monster, but he’s also his own worst enemy. That’s what makes him human, and so interesting.

New interviews with De Niro, Scorsese, and producer Irwin Winkler chronicle the gestation of this production. It was De Niro who made it his passion project, after reading Jake La Motta’s autobiography; he had to persuade Scorsese to take it on. In a separate interview with the always-captivating director, he talks about the New York City milieu he knew so well and strove to capture on film—including long, narrow hallways often lit by bare light bulbs, a touchstone image of his urban youth.

In other interesting featurettes, former fighters and boxing buffs recall the real La Motta, and four contemporary filmmakers (Kimberly Peirce, Richard Kelly, Neil LaBute, and Scott Cooper) discuss what impresses them so much about Raging Bull.

The new Blu-ray release retains the special features that have been part of earlier home video releases, including the first commentary track I ever remember listening to—on laserdisc—with Scorsese dissecting the movie scene by scene, in some cases shot by shot. This in itself is a master class. (There are now three separate commentary tracks, featuring the filmmaker and many of his colleagues, including longtime editor Thelma Schoonmaker, who, I seem to recall, had to hand-splice the faux color home-movie footage into every release print of the picture back in 1980.)

For Raging Bull, time has stood still, but in the best way: it is as contemporary, and as potent, as ever, and its visceral power is unmatched by anything I’ve watched in a long, long time.

One footnote: I’ve been a slow adopter when it comes to Blu-ray. Every time I see a demonstration I’m impressed, yet at home, on my 50-inch television, I don’t discern a tangible difference between a Blu-ray and a newly-remastered DVD of a given title. I even checked Raging Bull against the last DVD release, from 2005. I’m told that larger sets, and projection screens, reveal the difference in definition…but I’m still not ready to replace my DVD collection.


  1. mike schlesinger says:

    To take up Mr. Reinecke’s offer: ORDINARY PEOPLE was borderline unwatchable in 1980 and I sincerely doubt its portrayal of upper-middle-class angst has aged well. (Judd Hirsch was the sole saving grace as the only person who doesn’t behave like a Disney Audio-Animatronic.) WOLVES was a fine, engrossing film, though no, not as good as GOODFELLAS. So yes, ORDINARY PEOPLE was by far the bigger mistake–an unworthy followup to the previous year’s award to the well-made but still-just-a-kitchen-sink-drama KRAMER VS. KRAMER over the visionary APOCALYPSE NOW or ALL THAT JAZZ.

    My two cents, of course.

  2. whatsamatta U says:

    I agree about blu-ray,or as I and many others call it: “Blu-crap”.
    DVD has beautiful picture quality, I am very pleased with it,and I have well over 1000 DVDs!! I have been with DVDs since 1998 and love DVD!!!

    I have seen how Blu-crap looks and it is nothing great!

    I see much better quality with DVD. And also, all Blu-crap is is just another way for the studios to get more money from you.
    its so stupid that those who get into the Blu-ray, they then have to RE-BUY all the movies they have on DVD that are now on Blu-ray. Its so stupid!!!!!!!!!!!

    Its all just another way to sucker people into spending money all over again.

    As the saying goes. “theres one born every minute”

  3. Michael van den Bos says:

    I’m shocked, Leonard! I figured you of all people could see the video quality upgrade in Blu-ray from DVD! I own merely a 32″ Hi-Def flat screen TV connected to a Blu-ray player and I can easily discern the quality difference from DVD to Blu-ray discs. The Blu-ray video quality (image resolution) is at least (if not a bit more) double that of DVD. Blu-ray players also play DVDs, so I don’t have to get rid of my DVD library as they play just fine (and look great) from the Blu-ray player. You shouldn’t have to get rid of your DVD collection if you own a Blu-ray player as your DVDs should play on your Blu-ray player. Anyway, love your website, all of your books, documentary appearances and audio commentaries. I have been a big fan our yours for a very long time and I recommend your books, etc. to all of my Vancouver film students. ( We met once in Vancouver many years ago at a dinner with Vancouver animator Marv Newland when you were in our city to do an Entertainment Tonight story)

  4. Jim Reinecke says:

    But somehow they’ve neglected to issue a 30th anniversary edition of “Ordinary People”. Hmmm. . .I wonder why. Another moronic choice by the academy! Let me toss this one out for friendly debate among my fellow film buffs: Which was the bigger mistake: Awarding “Ordinary People” and Redford the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars over this film and Mr. Scorsese or, 10 years later, awarding “Dances With Wolves” and Kevin Costner the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars over “GoodFellas” and the same Mr. Scorsese?

  5. Kevin Jones says:

    “…but I’m still not ready to replace my DVD collection.”

    Hooray! Vindication!

    I have appreciated your views for some time, sir, and I make much use of the iPhone version of your Movie Guide. But your observations regarding DVD vs. Blu-ray makes me so much better! I have access to a Blu-Ray player via a Playstation 3, but I seldom use the thing beyond playing games. I’ve seen a few films on Blu-ray and I haven’t been able to tell the difference; my standard DVDs look great played through it.

    Thanks for that vindication and all your work!

  6. Steve Reo says:

    Leonard–Just a quick note to let you know I enjoy your movie reviews. I read Roger Ebert’s column constantly, and have just started reading yours, for a little variety. I don’t always agree with Roger’s assessment, but that’s two people with differing perspectives looking at the same thing and drawing different conclusions.

    In looking over your site, I don’t find that I can pull up reviews on any given movie that I’d like to read about. On Roger’s site, I can go to his “Reviews” section and ask for any film (say, “Titanic” or “The Maltese Falcon”); if he’s reviewed it, I am quickly whisked to his write-up. I don’t see that I can do that here; have I missed finding the right section, or do you not offer that capability? Thanks very much.

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