Martin Scorsese’s epic biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta, Raging Bull shows De Niro taking his commitment to method acting to the limit.
Thirty years ago at the 1981 Academy Awards, the greatest of all Oscar robberies (opens in new tab) took place when Martin Scorsese (opens in new tab)’s Raging Bull lost out to Robert Redford’s Ordinary People (opens in new tab), which pipped its rival to claim the Oscars for Best Film and Best Director. True, Redford’s is a fine film in its own right, yet it’s Scorsese’s epic biopic of boxer Jake LaMotta that’s now remembered as a classic.
The undisputed champ of boxing movies, Raging Bull is admittedly a film that’s easier to admire than to enjoy. It’s certainly bruising to watch, thanks both to the ferocity of its fight scenes and the violent misogyny of its protagonist. This is a film that doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to portraying machismo.
Robert De Niro (opens in new tab)’s performance as LaMotta is, for many, the peak of his cinematic partnership with Scorsese. Personally, I’d argue the case for his next role for Scorsese: talentless stand-up comedian Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy (opens in new tab), made two years later.
But Raging Bull is undoubtedly the film that shows De Niro taking his commitment to method acting to the limit. Famously, he trained in the ring for a year with LaMotta himself, becoming a very handy fighter in his own right, and then piled on 60lbs to portray the boxer in his flabby post-ring decline.
The role won De Niro the Academy Award for Best Actor, one of the two Oscars (out of eight nominations) the film did win (Thelma Schoonmaker won the other for Best Editing).
Whether or not Raging Bull really does represent Scorsese and De Niro’s finest hour (or two), it’s certainly a very worthy candidate for a prestige Blu-ray release and Twentieth Century Fox has now reissued the film in a 30th Anniversary Blu-ray edition. Packed with special features, the release boasts interviews in which Scorsese and De Niro reflect on their long collaboration, three separate commentaries, including one by Scorsese and Schoonmaker, and a raft of making-of featurettes.
All About Eve & Rain Man
Fox is also giving the Blu-ray treatment to another pair of Oscar-winning classics from its vaults – Joseph L Mankiewicz’s bitchy backstage classic All About Eve from 1950 (six wins out of 14 nominations), which has Bette Davis in peerless form as an ageing Broadway actress threatened by Anne Baxter's conniving ingenue; and Barry Levinson’s 1988 film Rain Man, which won Oscars for Best Film, Best Director, Best Screenplay and, of course, Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman’s autistic savant. Of the two, it's Levinson's yuppie-era drama that now seems the most dated.
Raging Bull, All About Eve & Rain Man are released on Blu-ray on 21 February.
A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.
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