Boxing movies have always fascinated me. In the massive library of films in the genre, I have never seen one that I thought was unworthy of some praise. The sport in and of itself is rich with drama. And while I will confess to not knowing a thing about how the sport works, I find myself truly captivated by it. The stories behind many of the elite boxers are fascinating. Take this years film Hands Of Stone about Roberto Duran. The film itself was fairly predictable and full of the tropes you come to expect, but it was the story of the man at the center of it. Bleed For This is not much different than that. It, along with the genre of sports films overall, is a fairly routine, by the numbers type of film. Yet, the story of the man is what is at the forefront of this one. In this case, the story is nothing short of inspirational. It isn’t great, but it isn’t totally unwatchable. In fact, I found myself very much enjoying Bleed For This. It packs enough punch to overcome its derivative narrative and stand out as another entertaining entry into a timeless genre.
Bleed For This is written and directed by Ben Younger (Boiler Room) and stars Miles Teller as Vinny Pazienza. Once a World Champion boxer, Vinny is about to get another title shot when he is suddenly involved in a near fatal car crash. The film tells the story of Paz’s motivational recovery after the crash to finally get back in the ring. The film also stars Aaron Eckhart as Kevin Rooney, Paz’s trainer as well as Katey Sagal, Ciaran Hinds and Ted Levine
Bleed For This, simply put, isn’t breaking new ground for this genre. But this is a story ripe for cinematic telling. Miles Teller is excellent as Paz and embodies his spirit and motivation that makes his comeback story so captivating. Eckhart, albeit in a somewhat caricature-esque role, maybe delievers one of his best performances ever. As Rooney, Eckhart plays an alcoholic trainer who is in need of redemption. Rooney formally trained boxing great Mike Tyson and since then had predictably fallen off the wagon. Be that as it may, Eckhart brings enough humanity and charisma to avoid being a cartoony rehash of tired character. Ciaran Hinds, disappears into the role of Vinny’s father Angelo. Hinds is one of those actors you really haven’t heard of but you’ve seen him in things. He is great as Angelo Pazienza. The weakest link in the cast is Katey Segal. Segal is no doubt a talented actress, but this is a role anyone could’ve played. Simply put, she just isn’t a stand out in the film and I don’t think she was really meant to be.
It is Teller who shines. While it isn’t his best performance (see Whiplash if you haven’t) it is a resume builder. Teller commits to everything he does and gives 100% of himself to this role. Paz was a larger than life character and one of immense energy. Whether it’s gambling in the late hours of the night a day ahead of a title bout, or going as hard as possible in his training even when Rooney tells him to save himself, Paz is self-destructive. Yet, it is not in a way that is what you normally see. Gambling is seemingly his only vice and even with that, it doesn’t consume him. Teller is an excellent actor who has really done a great job selecting diverse roles.
Where the film becomes weighed down is in its second act. We spend a good portion of the film exploring Paz in his most personally challenging state of his life. Nearly confined to a bed, unable to perform menial tasks, it begins to wear on him. While it never totally becomes boring, the pace does come to screeching halt. Normally, this is to develop characters a bit more. Bleed For This doesn’t really dig all that deep opting to set the stage for Paz’s comeback instead. That is ultimately rewarding but it leaves us wishing the film had mined that story a little further.
The boxing scenes are business as usual and nothing totally spectacular. What Younger does do a good job with in these scenes is pulling the emotion of Teller and company. It has the standard inspirational speeches from the trainer and worried family scenes. But they are done well enough to make them do more than just be placeholders, there are genuinely emotional moments to found within them. Younger hadn’t directed a film since 2005’s Prime and had previously helmed Boiler Room. And while something like Boiler Room isn’t a directorial masterpiece, it’s directed a little bit tighter than this film. Younger’s time off may have him shaking off the rust. However, Bleed For This is done well enough to make me curious as to what Younger will do next.
Though it isn’t quite on the level of the greats in the genre, Bleed For This lands all the right punches yet certainly doesn’t quite dodge the cliches. It features several effective performances from its talented cast and never succumbs to the melodrama lurking below the surface of films like these. Even though we can always see the next jab coming, we take it, return to our corner and come back out. Because in the end, the result is rewarding, even if we have to take some hits to the face to get there.