Bleed for This, 2016.
Written and Directed by Ben Younger.
Starring Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Christine Evangelista, Ciaran Hinds, Amanda Clayton, Ted Levine, and Katey Sagal.
The inspirational story of World Champion Boxer Vinny Pazienza who, after a near fatal car crash, which left him not knowing if he’d ever walk again, made one of sports most incredible comebacks.
Breaking the mold of boxing films (and comeback kid sports films in general) is a difficult task, but Bleed for This (written and directed by Ben Younger of Boiler Room fame) has the right angle to sidestep the pitfalls of clichés. Instead of focusing on slugging it out in the squared circle, Younger wants to tell what is undoubtedly the greatest injury return story of all time, which is Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller) returning to the ring after a fatal car accident that almost rendered him dead and unable to walk again. It’s meant to be a story of unparalleled resiliency that will instill the same level of determination Vinny has for his passion in life, to the hobbies and activities we strive to excel at ourselves.
Great idea, except Ben Younger doesn’t commit to the premise, taking well over a third of the movie to reach the terrifying vehicular collision that literally everyone knows is coming. We know it’s on the horizon for the simple fact that its history, and how the movie is being advertised and sold. Furthermore, it’s something audiences will get restless anticipating. That means much of the early goings are standard cinematic boxing fare, although keep in mind that the fights depicted here have nothing on the intensity or emotional attachment that a movie like Creed has. For 40 something minutes audiences will go through the motions until the real narrative kicks off.
Even then though, Bleed for This feels off; it’s a movie about a near paralyzed boxer wearing a Halo (a metallic contraction with five points that drill into the head area of Vinny to heal his fractured bones), yet none of it really hits hard. It’s not because the nature of the story is predictable and we as an audience know that Vinny is going to get back into the ring again, but rather poorly executed direction. There are glimpses of Vinny living a very rough life depended on assistance from his friends and family (quick scenes of his father helping bathe him and other things within that realm), but with very little emotion felt.
Some of the details regarding the injury just feel blatantly incorrect, simply to move along the story. During the hospital immediately after the accident, a doctor tells Vinny that if he does get the Halo procedure, it is very well possible that he will never walk again, let alone fight. Now here’s what bugs the crap out of me; within two minutes Vinny is walking (not perfectly mind you, but rather stilted) and maneuvering himself in and out of cars and also around his family home. Emotional attachment generally fades away if the narrative isn’t even going to follow the rules of its own script. Sure, the entire situation shows off the extreme dedication and stubbornness Vinny possessed, but the entire story of the film already does that for the character. No need to go overboard into cartoon territory.
Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart are the aces up Ben Younger’s sleeve however, with both offering up powerful performances. Teller is successfully able to portray Vinny as a brash, cocky arrogant asshole before nearly meeting his maker, and also succeeds at the more humbled side that is relentlessly determined to heal his body from severe wounds, even going as far as lifting weights (well, it’s more just the metal bar without the actual weights) with his Halo contraption wrapped around his face. The images of someone essentially handicapped undergoing that style of extensive training most definitely make for images that are both haunting and inspirational. The actor has even clearly gone through a commendable physical transformation, beefing his body up multiple weight classes to chiseled status in order to effectively portray Vinny.
As for Aaron Eckhart, he is unrecognizable as a disgraced boxing tutor dealing with some alcohol problems. His performance is easily one of the best things about the movie, and probably the greatest thing the actor has ever done. It almost makes you want to forgive him for I, Frankenstein. Seriously, he’s got a balding hairdo, a beer gut, and surprisingly the necessary chops to cut it as a believable boxing instructor. Unfortunately, some supporting characters don’t play out as well, like Katey Sagal playing Vinny’s mother who does nothing but sit in a corner looking all stressed and worried, surrounded by religious trinkets. What a waste of a character and a great actress.
Without the two aforementioned brilliant performances, I’m afraid that Bleed for This would be an unmitigated disaster that somehow ends up being everything it is trying not to be; a cliché by-the-numbers boxing flick. If Ben Younger had gone all the way on telling a story regarding overcoming potential paralysis and disabilities, then some raw, white knuckle emotion might be palpable during the inevitable comeback fight. As things stand, the story just leaves a feeling of indifference, with its final scene being the only real truly outstanding and moving moment. The only problem is that the moment doesn’t feel genuinely earned.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★