Bleed for This Review
A compelling if rather familiar story of a pugilistic comeback
Miles Teller stars as a fighter with undefeatable spirit in a boxing biopic that’s not a total knockout, but certainly pulls its weight.Boxing has proved to be a fruitful topic for Hollywood films. From the classic Raging Bull, to the Rocky series, to the more recent dramas The Fighter and Southpaw, the combative sport has been the subject of some of the best moments of cinema. In Bleed For This, writer-director Ben Younger brings the life of former world champion Vinny Pazienza to the big screen. It’s a compelling story, and features some excellent performances and smart direction, but it’s really hard to go pound-for-pound with the heavyweights and come out on top.Rising star Miles Teller stars as Pazienza, a champion fighter who faced massive challenges both in and out of the ring. The role demands a lot – Pazienza was a champion across three weight classes in his career, and went through some serious highs and lows. Teller is excellent in a role that suits him down to a tee: he can switch almost seamlessly from the arrogant, cocky boxer role to the suave, charming ladies-man, with a heart-wrenching turn of vulnerable, scared and angry thrown in for good measure.
The first third of the film follows the tried-and-tested sports film recipe that we know and love: the Pazmanian Devil, as Pazienza’s fans affectionately know him is throwing his career away through womanising and drinking. His own staff badmouth him and give him up as a lost hope, until hard-drinking coach Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) takes him under his wing and turns his luck around. Of course, where Hollywood’s concerned there’s no such thing as a smooth ride, so there’s a few pretty major twists to come for the Pazmanian Devil. And this is where the film starts to get tied up a bit, and follows the exact trial-hope-setback-comeback plotline we’ve seen before. In other recent boxing films, no less.
Given that Bleed for This is a ‘based on real events’ movie, a quick Google will tell you the major plot points, and even then it’s a fairly formulaic comeback story. But it’s a comeback story with a heart, and some killer performances and some fairly painful scenes. (Without giving too many spoilers away, suffice it to say Younger squeezes every last drop of gruesome out of a couple of medical scenes).
Pazienza’s is a fascinating story, but even the most compelling of timelines sometime need a bit of movie magic, and there are a few instances where Younger plays around with history, but it all fits pretty neatly together in the plot. Although the actual boxing sequences aren’t up there for the accuracy, artistry and general brilliance of the action set-pieces in last year’s Creed, they are exciting scenes, and allow Teller a chance to show off another admirable acting skill-set.
It’s a comeback story with a heart, killer performances and some fairly painful scenes
This film is similar to Creed and 2010’s Oscar-winning The Fighter in its focus on family. Pazienza’s larger than life Italian-American family (Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, Amanda Clayton) play a key role, and the film allows the hard-hitting boxing and harrowing medical scenes to sit comfortably alongside funny and heart-warming family scenes that show a little bit of the boxer’s psychology.
So Teller is fantastic, Eckhart is great in his supporting role, and Younger’s direction is dynamic and exciting. Pazienza's story is exciting, and it’s got everything you want from a Hollywood narrative. That’s all great, but we’ve just seen so many boxing films. We’ve seen fictional ones, we’ve seen biopics. We’ve seen ones with crazy Italian-American families. We’ve seen the personal struggles of fighters. Bleed For This is a good film, but it’s knocked onto the canvas by superior films of years past.
Bleed For This is worth seeing for Teller’s performance alone, and it’s nice to see Younger back among the Hollywood heavyweights – well, middleweights, maybe – after earlier films Boiler Room and Prime. This film feels authentic and it’s got great performances, a likeable main character and moves along at a steady pace. It’s compelling and entertaining, but it’s also vaguely familiar. Boxing has been a great topic for film, but there comes a point where it all starts to get a little bit stale. I’m not saying it’s time to throw in the towel, but the next boxing film needs to have a fresh game-plan, and a different plan of attack.
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