Bleed for This

bleed-for-this-movie-poster

Release: Friday, November 18, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Ben Younger; Angelo Pizzo; Pippa Bianco

Directed by: Ben Younger

Bleed for This is an intense title for an underwhelming boxing movie. Its hyperbolic nature suggests a scream-o/punk-rock band’s new single when really it’s meant to describe the mentality of one Vinny Pazienza, a boxer from Providence, Rhode Island who returned to the ring after being involved in a car crash that brought him within inches of total paralysis.

Ben Younger’s third directorial feature takes a rather subdued, psychological approach in retracing “The Pazmanian Devil”‘s remarkable return to the championship ring, a transformation that has been widely regarded as one of the most remarkable in all of sports history. It offers viewers the chance to share the headspace of a boxer who managed to hold world titles in three separate weight classes — one of an elite few who have ever managed to do so — all while making them acutely aware how heavily the odds were stacked against him in his mission to “come back from the dead.”

Going into a film with these sorts of things in mind, it’s difficult not to set expectations high. Plus, star Miles Teller has proven that his scintillating performance in 2014’s Whiplash wasn’t a fluke. He may not have been captivating us quite as intensely since but he continues to give the impression he’s turning a corner in his career, taking on characters more complex than your hard-partying teenage waster. Frustratingly, Younger sets about presenting Vinny’s miraculous story in a very workmanlike fashion, and while it is true many boxing films are genetically similar, the best of them know how to work within the confines and use tropes to their advantage. Bleed for This is unable to rise to that challenge by featuring a narrative that, rather than being complemented by a few clichés, ends up drowning in too many of them.

We first get an impression of the kind of theatrical, charismatic performer Vinny was in his prime in the opening scene, set in Caesar’s Palace in Vegas. Teller, who underwent extensive physical training and dieting to look the part — he dropped from 19% to 6% body fat — swaggers his way on to the scene, late for the weigh-in and nearly becoming disqualified for the next day’s match. He’s fun to watch from the get-go and one of the few aspects of the film that actually feels inspired. Throughout much of the picture Vinny’s flanked by his (many) fleeting girlfriends, a revolving door of Italian stunners — and his father Angelo (a very good Ciarán Hinds), whose level of emotional support is matched only by his blue-collar boorishness.

In the aftermath of another embarrassing ass-kicking and in spite of the consensus opinion that Vinny is washed-up, he begs to be put into another fight. He seeks the support of Kevin Rooney (thank goodness for Aaron Eckhart, who looks like he’s having some fun playing a really, really out-of-shape trainer), whose first appearance tells us everything we need to know about how his career has been trending. Kevin believes Vinny can succeed in a different group and the two set out to prepare for an upcoming light middleweight match, which turns out to be a victory. Things are now looking up for both parties. And then, of course, the accident — by all accounts a fairly tough thing to watch given that this really happened.

I don’t need to tell you what happens from circa the halfway mark onward because if you have seen just one boxing movie you already know. And even if you haven’t, you still already know. Bleed for This, like its star, wears its heart on its sleeve and in so doing advertises the Big Payoff in bright, flashing casino-style lights that are impossible to ignore. What we’re provided en route to Fight #3 (a.k.a. The Moment of Redemption, which always comes last and typically off the back of the fighter’s lowest moments) manifests as little more than tiresome filler material aimed at exposing that which made this athlete unique; that which drove him to the edge of potential destruction — had Vinny actually paralyzed himself in the process of training I hate to think of what would have happened to him then — and how his attitude more than anything helped him overcome.

On that note of positivity, Bleed for This isn’t totally without merit. Dramatically speaking it may be underachieving and formulaic, but the story’s not without heart and some compelling ‘twists.’ For one, it is refreshing to watch a boxer (read: any athlete protagonist) who doesn’t come completely undone at the seams when things do not go their way. When the darkness comes, there’s very little wallowing in self-pity, and that much can be appreciated even by non-sports fans. I mean, the guy returns to his work-out bench in his basement a mere five days after leaving the hospital having broken his neck, for crying out loud. And the screenplay, while far from original, impresses when it deals in specifics, such as the inherent difficulties of a boxer transitioning from a lighter weight class to a heavier one. (Fair warning: there’s also some pretty squirm-inducing stuff if you don’t like medical procedures, particularly when Vinny decides to forego anesthesia for the removal of the Halo, the apparatus that has been keeping his spine from breaking.)

In a nutshell, Bleed for This would be more appropriately titled Determination: The Movie. That’s certainly more generic — laughable, even — but after my experience, that would be more faithful to the style and tone of this would-be heavy-hitter.

miles-teller-with-the-vinny-paz

Recommendation: Sensational true story isn’t done proper justice by a mediocre screenplay and a dearth of predictable elements. Good performances keep it just above totally forgettable. Fans of Miles Teller, boxing and sports movies in general will probably come to appreciate something about this film while others are probably going to need to keep on browsing for something else. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 116 mins.

Quoted: “I know exactly how to give up. You know what scares me, Kev? It’s that it’s so easy.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

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21 thoughts on “Bleed for This

    • Look at that title! How lame. It reminds me of an unreleased album from some shit emo band like Hawthorne Heights or some shit. (If you have never heard of that band, you are so much better off. They aren’t exactly ‘The Ain’t Rights’) 😉

  1. I’ll probably see this for Miles and cos I love to box, if it makes its way here that is, but I think I’m worn out with all the recent boxing films! And the way this sounds – ie, by the numbers – kinda turns me off a bit. But I love boxing so much I think I’ll give it a try, 5/8 isn’t toooo bad… well, at least its above a pass! I enjoyed Southpaw, do you reckon i’d like this? Cos that was very predictable as well but I was entertained

    • Southpaw was even more formulaic and it was pretty manipulative with the way it depicted the boxer’s fall from grace.

      One of the things that actually makes Bleed for This distinguished is the boxer’s attitude, how he doesn’t really get too down on himself. You certainly get to a low point here but rather than dwelling in misery he manages to pick himself up and do something remarkable. So for that alone I have to recommend seeing this. Miles Teller is also becoming a really good actor and I like seeing him take on these more mature roles.

      • Yeah Miles is a big draw for me after Whiplash. I didn’t like War Dogs but he didn’t have much to do in that one. I like the way you describe how he doesn’t get all depressed and whatnot. Sounds like you rate this higher than Southpaw, so hopefully I’ll be able to see it this year. Doubt it though =/

    • The boxing scenes are pretty brutal and realistic but they’re not top-tier stuff, of the Rocky/Raging Bull/Creed/Warrior variety. I think it is fair to say the performances are what makes watching this all worthwhile though.

  2. Not a theater watch. OK enough, wish Eckhart and Teller could have done even more because they are very good for what they are given. First and third acts are good, second is a little of a slog to get through. Agree with your thoughts pretty strongly.

    • I couldn’t help but find myself comparing it to other boxing films, which isn’t really fair but it’s hard not to do it. Creed and in some ways Hands of Stone were more memorable. I wasn’t expecting this to be Rocky or anything, but something more vital than this.

      • Agreed. I hate comparing but let’s face it, it happens more than we’d like to admit.

        Also, the end was a little odd with Paz talking about how he did it and came back. Almost makes you wish that they had just ended with a still of Paz’s arm raised.

  3. Nice review! You don’t sound too impressed with this one, but I’ll still give it a go. I love boxing films and I really like Miles Teller.

    • Thanks. No, unfortunately I wasn’t really in love with this but the performances aren’t problematic. In fact Teller and Eckhart are largely responsible for this movie being any good at all.

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