BLEED FOR THIS (USA/15A/117mins)
Directed by Ben Younger. Starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal, Ciarán Hinds, Ted Levine
THE PLOT: In 1991, after being told to retire by his manager, boxer Vinny Paz (Miles Teller) won the WBA World Light Middleweight Title against highly rated fighter Gilbert Dele. Not long afterwards, Paz was involved in a terrible car accident, where his neck was broken. Although doctors told Paz he would never fight again, he disobeyed their orders to make what is considered to be the greatest comeback in boxing history.
THE VERDICT: Boxing films are having something of a renaissance at the moment, with the newest instalment in the Rocky franchise – ‘Creed’ – released earlier this year, and the Robert DeNiro vehicle Hands of Stone still to come. Vinny Paz’s comeback is a sensational true story, but there are times when the character feels underdeveloped on screen.
Miles Teller easily carries the film on his shoulders, he makes Vinny Paz a tenacious and stubborn character, but he struggles to make the character anything other than a boxer who will do anything it takes to succeed. The audience learns very little about Vinny Paz, other than the superficial and his love for his sport, and that’s where the film begins to struggle. Aaron Eckhart plays Vinny’s trainer and sometime voice of reason Kevin Rooney and Ciarán Hinds rounds out the central cast as Vinny’s father Angelo Pazienza. The rest of the cast features Katey Sagal, Christine Evangelista, Ted Levine and Amanda Clayton.
Ben Younger’s screenplay is based on the true story of Vinny Paz and his incredible comeback as a boxer, but without the full development of Vinny as a character outside the ring, the audience may struggle to root for a character that is admittedly charming, but seems mostly stubborn and a little suicidal. The screenplay is remarkably free from cliché however, and tries to avoid the usual boxing movie familiarity that we have seen on screen in the past.
As director, Ben Younger tries his best to keep the film moving and to give the audience a chance to root for the central character, but since it seems as though there are two comeback stories squashed into the film’s running time, it is surprising that there are segments of the film that feel slow and drawn out. Aaron Eckhart and Ciarán Hinds are strong in their roles, but while Miles Teller carries the film with what he is given, it would have made for a stronger film to know more about Vinny Paz as a person, not a boxer.
In all, ‘Bleed for This’ is a decent boxing movie, based on an incredible true story. The performances are strong, although some of the characters are drawn a little thin, and the film struggles with some sluggish pacing from time to time.
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Boxing films are built, much like their subjects, on familiar tropes like the underdog, the comeback and the need for glory in the face of adversity. All three form the basis for Bleed For This, a tough-talking but inspirational true story about one man’s fight to get back into the ring.

    It’s 1988 and Rhode Island native and Italian-American boxer Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) is losing his touch. He’s barely keeping to the required weight for his belt and is frustrating both his gruff manager Lou (Ted Levine) and his no-nonsense father Angelo (Ciaran Hinds). He’s therefore assigned a new trainer in the form of balding, slightly alcoholic trainer Kevin (Aaron Eckhart). He once trained Mike Tyson and now he has his hands full with Vinny. He suggests Vinny can try for a higher weight and aim for the big shot. However, that’s quickly put to rest when Vinny and a friend are involved in a head-on car crash. Vinny makes it out alive, but his spine is damaged and needs time to repair itself. However, Vinny isn’t going to take it lying down. He wants to be in a stiff brace called a ‘halo’ so that he can move around and get training again. He convinces Kevin to help him on the road to recovery, though it’s a path fraught with risks…

    In only his third feature in 16 years, Ben Younger displays some of that early promise and fighting spirit from his debut, Boiler Room. Let’s not remember his second film. He’s found quite a subject for his boxing film – Pazienza had a big mouth and even bigger balls, yet his story is one of courage and determination weighted against some risky personal and professional choices that could have ended his career for good. This is a man who doesn’t know the meaning of giving up or resigning himself to being a prisoner of his own broken body. It’s the stuff of a good boxing film, which this film undoubtedly is.

    Younger’s script, along with Angelo Pizzo and Pippa Branco, is peppered with some fighting talk and some great characterisations. Look for a barely recognisable Levine and Eckhart, once again disappearing into their roles. Hinds has some fun too with his concerned but supportive father figure. The character of Pazienza is a delicate high-wire act which requires an actor who is able to both convey the bullishness of the man while also making his vulnerability very real. Teller is certainly up to the challenge, even drawing from his own experiences of a car crash which left him with scars. It’s a ballsy performance, laced with frequent humour and determination. Younger gets the best out of his supporting cast too.

    While the film feels a little lightweight compared to the boxing greats of Rocky or Raging Bull, there’s something to be said for its plucky comeback story. Yes, it’s familiar but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. When done correctly, a familiar story can become engrossing and sweep you along to root for its unlikely hero. Well worth checking out. ****