Raging Bull – 30th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)

The genesis of what many people consider Martin Scorsese’s finest achievement happened thanks to Robert De Niro.  De Niro had read Jake La Motta’s autobiography while he was filming The Godfather Part II and he was convinced that it would make a compelling movie and began to try to convince director Martin Scorsese to direct it. 

Scorsese had his own issues that prevented him from agreeing for four years due  to the films he was working on and eventually a cocaine habit that resulted in an extended hospital stay.  De Niro finally convinced him to direct it by pointing out that Scorsese’s recent hospital visit should help him understand La Motta’s self-destructive tendencies.

Raging Bull is now on many top ten lists and considered a classic, but at the time of it’s release, it was a different story.    Many people were turned off by the violence and anger featured so prominently throughout the film.  Nevertheless, it ultimately made around 23 million worldwide and was nominated for eight Oscars and won two (Best Actor, Robert De Niro and Best Editing Thelma Schoonmaker).  The appreciation for this movie  and its look at boxer Jake La Motta and his life has grown and become even more critically appreciated since its release. 


The movie opens in 1964, where an aging overweight Jake La Motta (Robert De Niro) is practicing his nightclub act.  He’s in terrible shape and he has the look of a man that has been defeated by life.  It’s not long before we see a flashback to his younger, fitter days, when he was an up and coming middle-weight boxer.  La Motta isn’t winning a lot of fights but he has potential and the burning drive and the anger to win.

His brother Joey (Joe Pesci) is his manager and does his best to keep Jake focused but Jake’s insecure personality makes that hard to do.  Jake complains that because his hands are too small he can’t fight heavy-weight fighters, and is constantly suspicious of anyone that comes into contact with his wife with whom he has a unhappy marriage.

When Jake meets fifteen year old Vickie at a neighborhood pool, he is smitten immediately and goes about wooing her despite being married.  When the film jumps ahead, he previous wife is gone and he’s now married to Vicki and his boxing career is going better.  Joey’s mafia friends are determined to get Jake to play ball with them by paying them to set up a shot for him to win the middle-weight title.  The local mobster Tommy Como (Nicholas Colasanto) keeps making overtures and warns Joey that they are getting upset at Jake’s refusal to come to them.

Jake eventually does  what Tommy wants and throws a fight and pays $20,000 to get his shot at the title but the real cost his actions doesn’t become apparent to him until much later.  Throwing fights goes against his nature and only makes his temper even worse.  In addition, his jealous suspicions  over his wife ruin his relationships with both Joey and Vickie with the end result of him beating Joey in front of his wife and children.  His self-destructive tendencies not only cost him his marriage but also his brother who didn’t want anything to do with Jake after the assault.

Throughout his career, Jake’s ego grew as he progressed and he grew so confident that he quit watching what he ate and didn’t train as hard as he once had which ended up costing him his title to Sugar Ray Robinson with whom he had a bitter rivalry.   Despite losing some of his fights against Robinson, Jake took comfort in the fact that he never got knocked down.

This visceral dark and gritty movie does an excellent job of portraying Jake as a wild animal.  Even the opening shot of the movie shows Jake restlessly moving about the ring much like an angry caged bull would.  Jake was a wife-beater, a bully, paranoid, abusive to anyone that crossed him, and despite all of that, the film manages to elicit a small degree of sympathy for the man somehow despite his shortcomings.

Robert De Niro deserved the Oscar he won for this performance.  His La Motta is brutal, charming, funny, and ferocious.  He is like a ticking time-bomb…you know it’s going to go off but you just don’t know when.  Joe Pesci’s does a similar job as Joey, who despite being more laid back than Jake, is just as capable of flying into a towering rage as Jake when he wants to.  The two of them are the anchors of this movie and their relationship is both believable and troubling.

Martin Scorsese did a magnificent job capturing the life and times of Jake La Motta, and his decision to film the boxing scenes from only within the ring was an inspired one.  That close up immediacy adds an additional impact to the fights which also makes them seem more violent and bloody than most boxing movies.  Scorsese felt he understood La Motta and thought that “the ring becomes an allegory of life.”  Despite the fact that Jake lost everything, at the end of the movie he is still standing and that’s worthy of some degree of respect for that alone.


This stunning black and white 1080p (1.85:1) transfer looks great on Blu-ray.  I wondered if the gritty look of the film would be scrubbed away by DNR but fortunately that didn’t happen.  There is still grain present which maintains the movie’s look and the picture is sharp and the contrast is excellent too.  For a movie that’s thirty years old, this looks great on Blu-ray and Michael Chapman’s cinematography has never looked better.


The film’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is also impressive but not perfect.  This a front heavy mix and it all sounds great – the punches, the camera bulbs going off, and the period music  that plays throughout the movie all sound fantastic.  Dialogue is clear and well balanced for the most part and my only complaint is that the satellite channels aren’t used as much as I would have liked.  Overall, this is a good mix but I was hoping for a more immersive experience.

Special Features 

This Blu-ray is loaded with extras!  If you are a fan of Raging Bull, you are in for a treat as these extras will keep you busy for hours!  The other nice thing is that that they aren’t just fluff either.  These are high quality in depth extras that really add to your understanding of the film and the production of it.  All of the new extras are also in high definition.

New Special Features

  • Marty and Bobby – A series of interviews with Scorsese and De Niro, who discuss how Raging Bull came about and their longtime association.  I thought this was very interesting and it also provides the usually taciturn De Niro a chance to open up.
  • Raging Bull – Reflections on a Classic – A talk with four independent filmmakers who attribute Raging Bull to making them want to be filmmakers. They include: Kimberly Pierce (Boys Don’t Cry), Richard Kelly (Donny Darko), Scott Cooper (Crazy Heart), and Neil LeBute (In the Company of Men).  There’s also scenes from most of their movies as well so this struck me as shameless self-promotion.  It would have been better if they had left their movies out of the discussion.
  • Remembering Jake – A bunch of boxing veterans and fans congregate every month get together to talk about the old days and during one such meeting, they talk about their remembrances of La Motta.
  • Marty on Film – Scorsese talks about growing up watching films and how in his day movies weren’t categorized by genre since that concept didn’t exist at that point.  This provides a nice introduction to Scorsese for people that are new to his work.

Previously Released Special Features

  • Audio Commentaries – There are three excellent audio commentary tracks with different groups of people that were involved in the movie.  The first features Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the second includes Irwin Winkler, Robbie Robertson, Robert Chartoff, Theresa Saidana, John Turturro, Frank Warner, Michael Chapman, and Cis Corman, and the third is hosted by writers Mardik Martin, Paul Schrader, Jason Lustig, and Jake LaMotta himself.
  • Cathy Moriarty on The Tonight Show – March 27, 1981 – A look at Cathy Moriarty’s appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson to promote Raging Bull and to discuss her Oscar nomination. I didn’t find this overly interesting.
  • Raging Bull – Fight Night – A four part documentary that last almost an hour and a half, this is one that is very informative but lengthy.  Hardcore fans of the movie will love it. There is a “play all” option.
  • The Bronx Bull – A look back at the film with Jake La Motta,  Thelma Schoonmaker and several film critics.
  • DeNiro vs. La Motta – A side-by-side comparison between De Niro and La Motta using pictures and clips to show how much effort Scorsese and everyone involved took to be as authentic as possible.
  • La Motta Defends Title – An old MovieTone newsreel with La Motta.
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts 

This is a well-deserved classic as it’s a realistic look at a brutal man who has spent his life terrorizing people inside and outside of the ring.  The rise and fall of Jake La Motta is brought to life through an incredible performance by Robert De Niro.  This movie is well acted by the entire cast and this is without a doubt one of Martin Scorsese’s finest films.  This Blu-ray is most likely the best the movie is ever going to look and the comprehensive special features on this make it a must buy.

Order yours today!


5 Responses to “Raging Bull – 30th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Gerard Iribe

    I have the previously released edition and was anxiously awaiting this version, because of the NEW extras then noticed that after adding them all up it was only 1 hour of more stuff. That’s not worth me double dipping.

    If you don’t already own this film then it’s a no-brainer to get. IMO, it’s a masterpiece.

  2. Aaron Neuwirth

    A must own for me, done and done.

  3. Gregg

    Great movie. I saw this for the first time a couple months back. I think the fact that Jake Lamotta was on one of the commentaries was a rare thing. How often do you get the focus of a bio pic to be in on the commentary?? Brilliant!

  4. Aaron Neuwirth

    Gregg, check out commentaries for Apollo 13, Black Hawk Down, and especially Goodfellas.

  5. Sean Ferguson

    Gregg, La Motta did more than just the commentary. He also trained De Niro how to box and said that De Niro was one of the 20 best boxers he had ever trained. De Niro even fought three real fights dubbed as Young La Motta, and ended up winning two out of the three fights.