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Scorsese’s boxing classic receives special treatment

Brian Doxtader | Tuesday, February 22, 2005

“Raging Bull,” director Martin Scorsese’s best film, recently got the deluxe DVD treatment from MGM in a two-disc special edition, replacing the long out-of-print original disc.A quarter of a century later, “Raging Bull” remains a towering achievement of 20th century cinema. A brutally unflinching portrait of Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro), the one-time middleweight boxing champion of the world, Scorsese’s film originally polarized critics and audiences upon its 1980 release. With what some critics called a violent, misogynistic and unsympathetic animal of a protagonist, the film was uncomfortably received. Yet its stature has grown over the years to the point that American Film magazine declared it the greatest film of the 1980’s, and the American Film Institute named it the 24th best film of all time.Like other great “sports” movies, “Raging Bull” is not actually about boxing, but uses boxing to examine the tortured psyche of a character consumed by jealousy, frustration, hatred, fear and inadequacy. By the time the picture ends, the audience has been given a look into the soul of a tormented man who has fallen into nothing, but is left with the smallest glimpse of self-recognition.From a technical standpoint, everything about “Raging Bull” is perfect. Scorsese and all his long-time collaborators reach their zenith here, turning in the best work of their careers. The acting is all top-notch, but the film is undoubtedly anchored by De Niro’s stunning Oscar-winning performance. The actor trained with La Motta for a year to get into shape, then gained 60 pounds to play the boxer as a fat middle-aged man – starting the actors’ trend of drastic physical transformation in order to better “live in” a character. In most other films, such a performance would overshadow all the other actors, but not here. Joe Pesci holds his own in a star-making performance as Jake’s brother Joey and Catherine Moriarity garnered acclaim and an Academy Award nomination as Jake’s wife, Vicki. Scorsese is at the top of his game, directing with relentless passion and purpose. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long-time editor, won an Oscar for her incredible work here, and writer Paul Schrader penned a script that crackles with life and fervor.The DVD is well-presented. The print itself is in fine shape, which solid black levels and little grain and digital artifacting. The sound is solid, but unspectacular. The 5.1 digital audio mix is less immersive than could be hoped, especially during the fight scenes. One might’ve hoped that MGM would’ve opened up the soundstage a bit more, but since the film was originally mixed in surround sound, what is found here is certainly adequate.The extras are substantial and informative. The first disc has no fewer than three commentaries – one from Schoonmaker and Scorsese, one featuring the cast and crew and a final one featuring the “storytellers,” including Schrader and La Motta himself. All three are excellent, with lots of insights and anecdotes. The second disc houses most of the special features. The heart of the material is four featurettes, which altogether run nearly an hour and a half in length. They are extremely insightful, supplying anecdotes and behind the scenes memories from the cast and the filmmakers. “Raging Bull” is one of the finest motion pictures ever made, a roaring testament to the skills of its director, star, screenwriter and editor and a crowning achievement of modern cinema. This latest, excellent DVD from MGM gets the highest possible recommendation.