Open Road Films 116 Minutes R
Sports lore is filled with improbable, impossible comebacks. Bleed for This is right up there taking us back to the 80’s and boxer Vinnie Pazienza. The Pazmanian Devil not only returned to the ring months after breaking his neck in a horrific head-on car crash, but he won the Championship Belt for good measure. That’s the real story. Can this movie live up to reality?
The tale is ready-made for Writer/Director Ben Younger. “Paz” was already a Providence, Rhode Island Blue-Collar folk hero before the accident. The movie was shot where the action took place, right in Providence. The locals who played extras added a lot of flavor to the film.
It feels as if Miles Teller plays this role with a lack of intensity at times. He put in the work to build his body and he is ripped. He trained 8 months to get in shape. He says this movie had everything that he wanted to do as an actor. The mumbling New England accent he employs, however, is not consistent. Sometimes he goes in and out of the accent from sentence to sentence.
Younger uses intimate hand-held shots to get us close to Vinnie. But even though we’re rooting for him, the deep-in-your-gut emotional attachment we got from recent fight movies like Creed, don’t connect.
It’s the characters surrounding Vinnie that make this film fun to watch. At first we though Younger had turned Vinnie’s father, trainer and managers into ludicrous, cartoonish, clowns with the slick-back silver hair, pot bellies and dinner table bluster. Dining together and spooling spaghetti play a big part: until the credits, when you see clips of the real characters!
Ciarán Hinds as Vinnie’s father Angelo and Ted Levine as manager Lou Duva clearly had fun going over the top. Aaron Eckhart takes on the role of manager, Kevin Rooney, with that same New England charm, but he also adds wit, sarcasm and real emotion to his portrayal. Eckhart gained a lot of weight for his part, but his acting heft added much more to the movie. And he obviously put a lot of time in getting the Boston accent down.
Katey Sagal is Mom Pazienza. She’s mainly relegated to nervously listening to Vinnie’s fights in another room surrounded by candles and religious artifacts. Just as his sisters and girlfriends have the well worn jobs, seen in every boxing movie, of cheering him on from in front of the living room TV. Sister, Heather, provides some comic relief with her broad accent, poking fun at her boyfriend who collects statues of elephants and is pretty funny himself.
The major plot-line is how Vinnie dealt with the possibility of never getting back in the ring after the crash. Faced with a decision to operate and never fight again or to have to endure 6 months in a surgical halo attached to his head with four screws, Vinnie never wavered. He chose the halo. Teller says wearing the halo all day hurt his head. After lying in bed, turning to junk food and even venturing to strip clubs didn’t break his depression, Paz began working out in the basement to get ready for his return to the ring. Eckhart is faced with the choice of helping the determined Paz or not. and says “I could watch you kill yourself or help you do it.“
Of course the climax is that first fight. Ben Younger, for time, the director decided to alter reality and make the comeback fight a championship duel with Roberto Duran. In actuality the Duran fight was Paz’ 7th bout after coming out of the halo which is an even more astounding achievement.
The scenes during the matches are not as compelling as we expected. Director of Photography Larkin Seiple pulled his punches. The action sequences are shot from behind and over the shoulder with lots of quick cuts that don’t have much continuity or intensity. Audiences should be on their feet cheering during the Duran fight. We didn’t feel it.
Bleed for This joins a long line of inspiring boxing movies and this one lands in the middle of the pack. Miles Teller is an engaging young actor who clearly worked hard to get ready for this roll. He also had the real Vinnie Pazienza as a consultant. The music absolutely sets the time frame with the sound track of the 80’s adding the right beat. This is a feel-good movie set in a gritty community. Boxing has always provided a metaphor for life. If you work hard and prepare, you can take the best punch the other guy throws at you and stay on your feet. Keep fighting. That’s how Vinnie Pazienza lived his life and won. Right now that’s a lesson we all might take to heart.