UK Release Date: 2nd December 2016
Runtime: 117 minutes
Director: Ben Younger
Writer: Ben Younger
Starring: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciarán Hinds, Katey Sagal, Amanda Clayton, Christine Evangelista
Synopsis: The true story of boxer Vinny Pazienza who survived a car accident that broke his neck and became determined to get back into the ring, right after he learns to walk again.
Boxing movies are everywhere in American cinema. Just about every major rising star in Hollywood goes through a boxing drama as if it’s a vital rite of passage, from Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone to Jake Gyllenhaal and, most recently, Michael B Jordan in the surprisingly excellent Creed. The latest star to step between the ropes and hear the bell ring is Miles Teller, taking on the true life role of Vinny Pazienza, who survived breaking his neck in a car accident in order to make a remarkable and triumphant return to the squared circle, defying doctors, his family and just about everyone.
Vinny Paz (Teller) is a world champion boxer, helped to victories by his devoted father Angelo (Ciarán Hinds) and his own arrogance. Under the guidance of trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) he develops a more mature style in the ring and goes up several weight classes, beating new opposition. On a celebratory car ride, he is in a horrifying accident and left in hospital with a broken neck. The doctors say that he may not walk again, but Vinny is determined that he wants to fight and refuses fusion surgery. He wears a device to correct his neck and, under the reluctant but watchful eye of Rooney, he begins training again.
Bleed for This is an utterly remarkable story of human achievement against the odds. It’s a classic sporting tale, with Vinny Paz rendered the ultimate underdog by his devastating accident. The story was strong enough to coax writer-director Ben Younger to make his first film since Prime in 2005. Younger plays the film as straight as possible from a directorial point of view, harnessing the charisma of his star to do much of the heavy lifting. Thankfully, Teller is more than able to meet the challenge.
The role of Vinny Paz is, in many ways, the perfect vehicle for Teller’s unique persona. The character is arrogant, but charming, and feels like he only has swagger because he knows just how good he is. Teller is entirely believable in the role and is capable of being fiercely logical, but also pathetic at times in his steadfast refusal to show that anything is capable of getting to him. Aaron Eckhart proves to be a very capable foil, helped by a remarkable physical transformation that converts his leading man appearance into that of a balding, paunchy trainer way past his physical prime.
Bleed for This also benefits from an authentically warm feel of Vinny Paz’s family, especially Ciarán Hinds, who is both bullish and concerned as the father with a careful eye consistently trained on his son’s career. His driven, single-minded performance gives a real insight into what turned Vinny into the career-focused person that he has become. The sense of the broad family creates obvious comparisons with The Fighter, which is a much richer movie and reaches considerably higher than Bleed for This does.
Younger’s slightly standoffish direction prevents the film from becoming a classic of the genre’s recent history. The in-ring sequences are nicely staged, but lack the raw intensity of the boxing sequences in Southpaw or the visual invention of what Ryan Coogler did in Creed. It’s a rather ordinary film from a visual point of view, which somewhat undercuts the strong work of the cast and does the thrilling central story a bit of a disservice. Ultimately, this occasionally feels like an imitation of better boxing movies, albeit a good one, rather than a new take on the genre.
Pop or Poop?
Bleed for This is a compelling sporting underdog story helped by a terrific Miles Teller performance and a supporting cast on top form surrounding him. It’s in its actual scenes of sporting success and failure that the film falls down, thanks to direction that occasionally veers from understated to bland.
The boxing movie is a crowded corner of the American cinematic canon and, despite being a decent, workmanlike film, Bleed for This doesn’t do enough to rise to the top of the bunch as a real contender.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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