DIR/WRI: Ben Younger • PRO: Bruce Cohen, Ben Matthew Empey, Noah Kraft, Pamela Thur, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Chad A. Verdi, Ben Younger • DOP: Larkin Seiple • ED: Zachary Stuart-Pontier • DES: Kay Lee • MUS: Julia Holter • CAST: Miles Teller, Katie Sagal, Aaron Eckhart
Inspired by a true comeback tale, Bleed For This stars Miles Teller as former boxer Vinny Pazienza. From the opening sequence attending a weigh-in in a leopard-print thong, it becomes obvious that Vinny isn’t your regular boxer. He’s overly-confident and his ego is fed by those around him, but this hasn’t transferred to wins in the ring. After losing another fight, Vinny seeks new tutelage from Kevin Rooney, played by Aaron Eckhart, who had previously coached Mike Tyson and is struggling with alcoholism. Kevin urges Vinny to fight in a heavier weight class, and this encourages Vinny to dedicate himself further to his sport, and he inevitably wins at his next appearance in the ring.
Despite his latest success, Vinny unfortunately breaks his neck in a car crash and his hopes of boxing, as well as ever walking again, are initially dashed by his doctor. Bleed For This then devotes the remainder of the film to Vinny’s recovery process and his difficulties in accepting his injury and the road to recovery. The comeback story enters full flow and Vinny is determined to enter the ring one more time and upset the odds that were placed on him to never fight again.
Another addition to the ever-expanding boxing film genre, Bleed For This includes regular conventions and cliches which have been used several times in the past. It’s difficult not to imagine Rocky Balboa during the film, especially when there’s a scene of Vinny running in a grey tracksuit á la Rocky running up the ‘Rocky Steps’, and this is an issue both viewers and director Ben Younger have to deal with. Of course, there are similarities with Raging Bull with a biopic of a real-life professional boxer. Martin Scorsese serves as an executive producer for Bleed For This, and Ciarán Hinds, who plays Vinny’s father, does his best to impersonate Robert DeNiro. Unfortunately, this impersonation detracts from Hinds’ overall performance and he becomes a DeNiro caricature act.
There is a great physicality to the film and this becomes one of the film’s overall highlights. You can feel each punch delivered in the ring, which is assisted by incredible sound mixing, but Miles Teller also assists with his own delivery. He enables a vicarious experience where it feels like you suffer along with him in and out of the ring. Teller, in Whiplash, delivered an incredible physical performance that is hard to match, but here he delivers another supreme physical performance.
Teller also underplays the boxer and doesn’t over-exaggerate the egotistical side of Vinny Pazienza. He’s flashy and brash, but there is also a delicate and fragile side of Pazienza, which Teller exposes. It’s also an interesting characterisation in the current era of MMA and Conor McGregor, where Pazienza would be instantly consumed and dismissed by the Irishman. There is also an aspect that these professionals are used and exploited by managers and promoters for financial gain. Vinny’s manager Lou Duva, played by Ted Levine, says that boxers like Vinny are simply cogs in a machine, and due to his injury, Vinny could be replaced by another cog. It was an interesting piece of dialogue that highlighted the harsh realities of the boxing industry.
Overall, Bleed For This is an enjoyable film. Its third act makes up for a slightly sloppy start where the film seems as if it doesn’t know what direction to take. Some characters are wasted in the film, such as Katey Sagal as Vinny’s mother, who is only present to clutch rosary beads. Miles Teller, however, is on form and he is becoming one of Hollywood’s most-promising talents, making up for his turn in that reboot of Fantastic Four.
The major problem of Bleed For This remains that it has plenty of competition from previous boxing movies and it may not stand the test of time compared to other genre entries. Although, it does deliver a solid punch.
15A (See IFCO for details)
Bleed For This is released 2nd December 2016