It's tough to know where to begin, when sitting down to review the classic Raging Bull. There is so much that has been said about this film over the past 30 years, so much praise sent its way, that coming up with anything fresh or original is almost impossible.
A lot of film critics have called Raging Bull the best film of the 1980s. It's been called the best-ever sports film, and the best-ever boxing film. All pretty big calls, and I'm not sure that I agree with all of them – particularly about the boxing, as there's only about 10 minutes of fighting in the entire film. But however you feel about it, it's clear to anyone who has any kind of affection for cinema that Raging Bull is one hell of a fine piece of filmmaking – and still as powerful today as the day it was released.
Raging Bull sees De Niro at the height of his power as an actor – he made the film before The King of Comedy, Once Upon a Time in America and Brazil, and after Taxi Driver, the Godfathers and The Deer Hunter. His Jake La Motta is a fascinating, complex and pretty unlikable character. This is not a film about boxing; it's a character study of a man who is mean, petty, jealous and insecure, a man full of rage who takes out his frustrations with life in the ring. Scorsese, too, has rarely been better than he is here, making a smart, artistic decision to shoot the film in black and white.
He's worked with De Niro often – most notably in Goodfellas and Casino, and while those two films are close to perfect, Raging Bull is their masterpiece. Also brilliant in support are Pesci as Jake's brother Joey (playing the calmer, more subdued role for change) and Moriarty in her film debut, for which she scored a best supporting actress Oscar nomination. Whether you're a fan of boxing or not, Raging Bull is a wonderful film, a work of genius, that every serious movie connoisseur must own.
EXTRAS ★★★★★ As part of the film's 30th anniversary, some new reflective features have been put together, consisting of: Marty and Bobby, an interview with the star and director (13:35); Raging Bull: Reflections on a Classic (12:15); Remembering Jake (11:04); Marty on Film (10:30); and Cathy Moriarty on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson, March 27, 1981 (6:42). The rest of the bonus features, taken from previous releases, consist of: a filmmakers commentary with Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker; a cast and cree commentary with Irwin Winkler, Robbie Robertson, Robert Chartoff, Theresa Saldana, John Turturro, Frank Warner, Michael Chapman and Cis Corman; storytellers commentary with Mardik Martin, Paul Schrader, Jason Lustin and Jake La Motta; Raging Bull: Fight Night, four featurettes that examine the fight scenes (1:22:32); the making-of documentary The Bronx Bull (27:54); De Niro vs La Motta, a shot-by-shot comparison in the ring (3:47); the newsreel footage La Motta Defends Title (1:00); and the original theatrical trailer. All in all, this is truly a class package that punches well above its weight.