While it may be debatable exactly when it was that Robert De Niro stopped caring about his craft, it's beyond debate that Raging Bull is among his finest performances. In his Oscar-winning performance as real life prizefighter Jake La Motta, De Niro showed more acting chops than he has in all the films he's made in the last decade combined. De Niro completely subsumed himself in the role of La Motta, a savage, finesse-free slugger in the ring, who craved receiving the punch nearly as much as giving it, and a psychopath outside the ring, consumed with sexual insecurity.
To prepare for his role, De Niro rigorously trained in the ring with La Motta to the point that the ex-prizefighter thought the actor could have turned pro. Before massive weight changes became commonplace for method actors, De Niro physically transformed himself from the lean, muscled build of a middleweight to that of a fat down-and-out has-been by putting on 50 pounds of flab in two months - physically capturing La Motta at his best and worst.
On screen, La Motta's every thought is evident on the face of De Niro, even below the layers of prosthetic skin added to give him the look of a broken-nosed pugilist on the wane. Every look at the object of La Motta's turbulent obsession, played by the teenaged Cathy Moriarty, is pregnant with a fury of emotions fighting one another for dominance - desire, jealously, rage, loathing, guilt and fear.
Although Raging Bull is truly Robert De Niro's movie, his performance would not have shined so brightly without the splendid supporting performances of the novice Moriarty and the then-unknown Joe Pesci. Though only 19, Moriarty believably conveys the arc of her character from age 15 to 35, from sultry jailbait to weary, middle-aged mother of three. For his part, Pesci, a previously frustrated bit actor, put on the performance of his career as Jake La Motta's brother.
The story of this Italian-American prizefighter who rose to middleweight champ in 1948 before falling to nightclub self-parody a decade and a half later was masterfully helmed by Martin Scorsese using a script cobbled together by Mardik Martin (Mean Streets) and Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver) from La Motta's hackneyed autobiography. Though Scorsese and his cinematographer Michael Chapman didn't receive the accolades they were due for the innovative black-and-white photography that conveyed the subjective experience of La Motta through speed-shifted footage and POV fight scenes, at least film editor Thelma Schoonmaker did, earning an Oscar for her efforts.
This release of Raging Bull is provided on a single, dual-layered, 50GB Blu-ray disc.
The main feature is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is encoded in 1080p/AVC @ 28 mbps. The black and white photography looks richer and more luminous and detailed than it ever has for the home video market. Film grain is retained and there is only the slightest hint of digital manipulation of the image to correct minor flaws in the print.
The main feature is presented in a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio mix. While the score and ambient noise sound very good, dialogue is mixed in too quietly. Viewers should consider adjusting input to the front center speaker to compensate for the poor mix.
Dubs are available in Spanish DD 5.1, Portuguese 5.1 DD, Turkish 5.1 DD, and French 5.1 DTS. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin, Thai and Turkish.
All of the extras created for the 2005 2-disc DVD release are carried forward on this Blu-ray release.
- Commentary with Martin Scorsese and film editor Thelma Schoonmaker - recorded separately, Scorsese and Schoonmaker provide the best overview of the making of the film found on any of the three commentaries.
- Cast & Crew commentary with cinematographer Michael Chapman, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, music producer Robbie Robertson, casting director Cis Corman, sound effects editor Frank Warner and supporting actors John Turturro and Theresa Saldana - despite the many participants, this commentary flows well with a great deal of fine detail on particular aspects of the production.
- Storytellers' commentary with Jake La Motta, Jason Lustig, Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader - The elderly Jake La Motta and his nephew Jason Lustig were recorded together, while scriptwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader were recorded separately. This is perhaps the most engaging of the three commentaries with Lustig drawing interesting anecdotes from La Motta, and Martin and Schrader providing detail about the various rewrites and fictions incorporated into the screenplay.
- Raging Bull: Before the Fight (480p, 26 min.) covers the writing, casting, and preproduction through interviews with filmmaker Martin Scorsese, producers Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, and actors Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci.
- Raging Bull: Inside the Ring (480p, 15 min.) details the choreography of the fight scenes through production stills, clips and new interviews.
- Raging Bull: Outside the Ring (480p, 27 min.) details the ten-week shooting schedule of Raging Bull.
- Raging Bull: After the Fight (480p, 15 min.) addresses the post-production work and the legacy of Raging Bull).
- The Bronx Bull (480p, 28 min.) treads much the same ground as the four previous featurettes and the commentaries, but this one stands out for the onscreen interview with La Motta.
- De Niro vs. La Motta (480p, 2 min.) offers a jab-by-jab comparison of the fight recreations with the original fights.
- La Motta Defends Title (480p, 1 min.) - brief archival newsreel footage of La Motta in action.
- Original Theatrical Trailer (1080p, 2 min.) - the only extra to be presented in 1080p.
Raging Bull, which received mixed reviews upon its release in 1980, has only grown in statute with the passing years. A superbly executed story that humanizes a loathsome brute, providing the genesis for antihero dramas like The Sopranos, Raging Bull is one of the standout films of the 1980s.
With a terrific image and plenty of outstanding extras, Raging Bull is an obvious choice for inclusion in the DVD Talk Collector Series.