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(Here at Hammer to Nail, we are all about true independent cinema. But we also have to tip our hat to the great films of yesteryear that continue to inspire filmmakers and cinephiles alike. This week, Brad Cook gets in the ring with the new 4k Blu-Ray release of Martin Scorsese’s impeccable Raging Bull.)

Criterion has jumped into the 4K disc game, although their releases have been a bit sporadic since their first foray into the format last November. This month, though, they’re continuing their upgrades of classic films with a 4K edition of Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull, starring Robert DeNiro in the title role of the volatile boxing champ Jake LaMotta.

This is a film that’s been written about extensively over the years, so I won’t belabor this review with a plot recitation, but suffice it to say that this is a relentlessly angry movie “about a man who’s fighting the world while fighting himself,” as writer Robin Robertson observes in an essay in the booklet that’s included with this two-disc release.

LaMotta is mostly fighting his brother and manager Joey LaMotta (Joe Pesci) and his wife Vickie LaMotta (Cathy Moriarty), who he spots at a neighborhood pool and takes an interest in, despite the facts that she’s 15 years old and he’s currently married. He later leaves his wife and marries Vickie, but he becomes jealous of any interactions she has with other men, which strains their marriage. He eventually accuses his brother of having an affair with her, which drives a wedge in that relationship too, and his boxing career begins a downward spiral that ends with him alone and defeated, no longer the middleweight champion.

If you’ve never seen Raging Bull, I recommend doing so when you’re in the right kind of mood to watch someone angrily self-destruct. Scorsese’s decision to shoot the film in black-and-white heightens the feeling that this is a man laid bare, a gifted boxer who doesn’t use his abilities to channel much in the way of good into the world. What you see is what you get with LaMotta; there isn’t much nuance.

Criterion’s 4K restoration of the film, which was approved by the director, is about as close to theatrical quality as you’re going to get. This is a movie that’s always looked pretty good on home video, although its copious use of deep blacks in many shots meant that there could be a bit of pixelation in those areas in the DVD days. Here, though, those parts of the frame are a deep, rich color that stands in stark contrast to the rest of the images.

In addition to the restoration work, Criterion commissioned a pair of new video essays while porting over a lot of previously available bonus features. One of the essays runs 26 minutes and features critic Geoffrey O’Brien discussing Scorsese’s aesthetic choices in setting up his shots. The other essay is an 18-minute one in which another critic, Sheila O’Malley, ruminates on the three main characters and the choices made by the stars who played them.

Moving on, Criterion included three commentary tracks which are found on the 4K and Blu-ray Discs. (The former doesn’t have any other extras, which gives the film plenty of space to breathe.) The first one dates back to Criterion’s 1990 LaserDisc of the film and features Scorsese and editor Thelma Schoonmaker giving an in-depth discussion of pretty much every aspect of the movie, from how it came about to the effect it had on the real Jake LaMotta.

LaMotta himself shows up in another commentary, along with his nephew Jason Lustig and screenwriters Mardik Martin and Paul Schrader. Recorded for the 2004 DVD release, it features a contrite LaMotta talking about the mistakes he made and his efforts to change his ways later in his life, as prompted by Lustig, while Martin and Schrader delve into how they translated the man into a movie character.

The third commentary, which also dates to 2004, features a large group: director of photography Michael Chapman, producer Robert Chartoff and Irwin Winkler, casting director Cis Corman, music consultant Robbie Robertson, actors Teresa Saldana and John Turturo, and supervising sound effects editor Frank Warner. All of them were recorded separately, as far as I can tell, which lets each person focus on what’s relevant to them without getting pulled off on tangents by others. If you’re wondering why Turturo is included, he’s actually an extra sitting with DeNiro and Pesci in one scene; it was his first film appearance.

The non-commentary extras included here start with the four-part Raging Bull: Fight Night documentary, which features members of the cast and crew discussing the film’s production. You’ll also find three archival interviews with Scorsese and DeNiro, along with a short interview with LaMotta and a group of veteran boxers discussing his legacy. Finally, there’s a 1981 interview with Moriarty and the real Vickie LaMotta from Belgian television.

The film’s trailer rounds out the platter. The booklet includes the aforementioned essay by Robertson as well as another one by film critic Glenn Kenny, along with technical credits.

– Brad Cook (@BradCWriter)

Criterion 4k Blu ray; Martin Scorsese; Raging Bull

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