November 17th, 2016
MOVIE: BLEED FOR THIS
STARRING: MILES TELLER; AARON ECKHART; CIARAN HINDS; KATEY SAGAL
DIRECTED BY: BEN YOUNGER
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
If boxing movies were the art of cinema drug of choice, by now the medium would have overdosed on the amount of heavy usage this sport has gotten for the big screen. This year already, there was Hands of Stone, which was preceded by last year’s Southpaw and Creed. The contemporary boxers tale is almost down for the count. Struggling to stand for an eight count is Bleed for This, the inspiring story of Providence, Rhode Island’s Vinnny Pazienza, the middleweight champion, who was involved in a tragic car accident severing part of his spinal cord in his neck, rendering him to a metal halo apparatus, and the inability to fight in the ring. The only person who didn’t count the “Pazmanian Devil” out was the man himself, and surprisingly enough, that’s the attitude director Ben Younger takes on, as he wills Bleed for This to a surprisingly strong result.
The role of Pazienza is played by Whiplash star Miles Teller. The embattled actor has fought his own personal demons, but has found a role that fits perfectly with his cocky swagger. Clearly, he has bulked up for the part, looking about 50 pounds stronger than his younger, skinny-drummer self. There is a much deeper, emotional work done, as he carries the film with his macho intensity. It begins with Pazienza struggling, as he’s lost three fights in a row. The plan of sticking his nose into his opponents fists earns him more concussions than respect from his manager (Ted Levine). His father Angelo (Ciaran Hinds) barks his “support” from the corner, often believing his son is the greatest, even if the scorecards don’t reveal that. His mother (Katey Sagal) quietly watches his fights from home, surrounded by her shrine of Jesus and virgin Mary effigy’s. The losses pile up and force “The Pazmanian Devil” to start from the bottom. He hires an alcoholic and equally struggling manager in Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), making them a team with a goal of redemption.
Impressive enough, is the effort from director Ben Younger. The Boiler Room director does everything in his power to make the conventional boxing film a thing of the past. Bleed for This taps into the style of David O. Russell’s The Fighter, focusing on the family support that surrounds Paz, then say, any one of the Rocky films. The training montage comes early, but there is not a single note of music on the score that fits into the cliched “Eye of the Tiger” format. It’s easy to tell the comeback story, but Bleed for This feels more personal to Younger, Teller, and for Pazienza.
The middle part of the story focuses on the horrific accident, which reveals more blood on the street than what’s in the ring, and eventually the courageous climb to recovery. A gruesome highlight is the implementation of the medieval halo gear that is drilled into Vinny’s skull. It is post surgery where the momentum of the film is slowed down. I related to this a bit, it’s not on the same level, but when I had major reconstructive knee surgery in high-school I was forced to bed for months. Life does come to a stop. It’s hard to get into the psyche of a champion when the glory comes to an abrupt end. Younger knows to capture the quiet moments, where Paz sits alone at his birthday party. Those are the times when everyone in the room believes it’s over, except for the guy who’s laid up with metal rods in his head.
What seems to elude Younger is allowing his audience to understand what truly drives Paz to start lifting weights again, culminating with his underdog comeback in the ring to fight Roberto Duran. What drives a man to take the hits, to gamble where his life could be lost for the sport? Is it the glory? The fame? Maybe that is the point? There is an emotional conversation between father and son that feels like a metaphorical release into the wild, somewhere that only Paz knows about. Meanwhile, the relationship between Paz and Rooney is not as deep as it could be, but a balding and overweight Eckhart delivers a transformative performance worth seeing. But then again, the manager orating a “crap lightening” speech would be the conventional boxing film and that’s not Younger’s style.
Either way, if the final bell was to sound for the boxing movie, then Bleed for This would be a good way to go out. The story of Vinny Pazienza is more than worthy of the Hollywood treatment, but I don’t think this movie was for the fans. This is a movie for a courageous Vinny Paz. His fighting spirit is something not many of us have and if anything, Bleed for This honors him.
Written by: Leo Brady