I’ll be the first to admit that in the business there are certain types of stories that get over romanticized, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still have some punch to them. Bleed For This doesn’t really go above and beyond the obvious fighter bio pic and while it never truly speaks to these subjects’ moral characters, Bleed For This actually gives us a glimpse inside the insanity of what makes these guys fight, when everything in their bodies is telling them not to.
This is the unique story of Vinny Pazienza; aka The Pazmanian Devil (Miles Teller) a successful but bullheaded young boxer who defied the odds and won world titles at three different weight classes. Vinny was on top of the world, until he wasn’t and a near fatal car wreck left him with a broken neck and nearly paralyzed. Against the orders of doctors, he refused to have his neck fused, opted for a HALO procedure the immobilized his neck for three months, began a training regiment against doctors orders and with the help of trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) he stepped back in the ring for what is widely regarded as one of the greatest comeback stories in the history of sports.
While the beats have been done before and quite frankly been done to death, it’s the raw energy of Bleed For This and a great performance from Miles Teller that while electric is also trying a little too hard for awards consideration.
Writer/Director Ben Younger is a solid yet unspectacular hand when it comes to storytelling and he gets the narrative moving from point A to point B without too much effort. It’s well shot but the supporting characters are a little ancillary at the best of times and Younger keeps most of if not the entire story on Pazienza and the wild life that he leads. It’s hardly your typical sports story as our heroes in this narrative aren’t particularly likeable by any real means, they are lower, working class, career alcoholics people who don’t rise above their station. The only thing that Paz has or even wants to overcome in his life is the demon inside him that needs to fight. That is the one thing that so many other movies about professional fighters tend to gloss over or get wrong, these are men and women that are compelled to fight. Not out of a want, but out of a need and they know damn well if there aren’t doing it in the ring under any kind of sanctions their quality of life would be in the toilet because they’d be fighting anywhere and anywhere that they possibly could. If anything Younger captures the fire these characters have to fight thanks to Teller’s sublime performance.
You’ve got to give credit where credit is due as Miles Teller dives head first into the role of Pazienza. Dealing with some fairly major body transformation, Teller embraces the life of a boxer who enjoyed his women and his booze just as much as his family in getting inside the ring. It’s a performance that exudes pure energy and we have that dripping off the screen at every turn. Aaron Eckhart is solid as his sad sack trainer Kevin Rooney who has one last chance at redemption and getting his life and career back on track while Ciaran Hinds and Katey Segal are OK yet kind of wasted as his parents. Without Teller this movie would have fallen off the map as it wasn’t written strongly enough for us to care about the supporting players, but he brings it home dragging it over the finish line as we understand what makes guys like this fight, when logic tells them that they shouldn’t.
It’s hardly high art, Bleed For This actually lets us into the psyche of these guys who put the quality of their lives on the line and even their own health for the thrill of the combat and the competition that they just can’t live without.