‘Bleed for This’ Gets Knocked Out by Sports Movie Clichés

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Bleed for This

Despite waning public interest in the sport, boxing movies are just as prevalent as they’ve ever been. The latest A-list actor to step into the ring and get his matinee good looks pummeled in a frenzy of fists and sweat is Miles Teller in director Ben Younger’s Bleed for This, the real life story of Vinny Pazienza, a champion boxer whose career was almost derailed following a horrific car accident that almost left him paralyzed. While well-acted, Bleed for This spends its first half wallowing in the stale gym sweat of boxing movie clichés before moving onto its inspirational tale of a boxer driven by pride and a complete disregard of the opinions of medical professionals in order to overcome adversity. Hard as tried to find the feel good story at the heart of the film, the simple fact that this is a film about a man putting his life on the line for no other reasons than his ego and pride, his close friends and family be damned if things don’t pan out.

Vinny Pazienza (Teller) is a boxer that’s running out of chances. After losing a fight, Pazienza is facing a career that is approaching the end, as his managers Lou (Ted Levine) and Dan Duva (Jordan Gelber) publically state that the pugilist should hang up his gloves. But Pazienza doesn’t want to quit and is soon set up with trainer Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), who used to train Mike Tyson but has faded away into the recesses of alcoholism. Over time, Rooney reinvents Pazienza and the fighter unexpectedly wins a title fight after jumping two weight classes. When a car accident leaves Pazienza almost paralyzed shortly after his moment of triumph, the boxer is informed by his doctors that he will never fight again. Recouping with a halo screwed into his head, Pazienza starts training in secret, his only hope to live is to box. Against all odds, Pazienza recovers and fights Roberto Duran (Edwin Rodriguez) for the Super Middleweight Title.

Bleed for This is erratic in its construction, with Pazienza basically going through the same story arc twice. At first, he’s a dejected boxer in need of a new trainer to reinvent himself. He succeeds and then has his accident. Then Pazienza basically at a lower point than when he started and will eventually get back to the top. This wouldn’t be so bad if there was anything Ben Younger’s screenplay (from a story by Younger, Pippa Blanco, and Angelo Pizzo) that didn’t seem so reliant on boxing movie clichés, such as the down on his luck boxer finding new life after meeting a new grizzled trainer. Adding to the clichés present in Bleed for This is that the movie makes it a story dependent on winning or losing – a conclusion that limits most sports movies in their final acts. Considering that this is the story of man defying medical advice for his pride, there’s something more thematically resonant within the story that’s just spit out into a bucket ringside.

There’s also a family dynamic to Bleed for This that is also erratic. Pazienza lives with his mother Louise (Katey Sagal) and father Angelo (Ciarán Hinds). When it comes to boxing, Angelo is often in his son’s corner and takes an active role in the management of his son’s career. There’s a bit of conflict between Angelo and Kevin Rooney, though it’s really undercooked as a part of the whole. More egregiously is the manner that Louise Pazienza has more scenes of her praying while her son fights than lines of dialogue. This, however, speaks to the film’s larger issues with its women characters. I honestly can’t tell if Vinny Pazienza had the same girlfriend throughout the movie or is just cycling through a constant rotation of similar looking brunettes.

The boxing scenes in Bleed for This are incredibly stale, with Younger keeping the camera behind the ropes and at a distance while the sweaty men brutalize each other with punches. It’s as visually unstimulating as the countless boxing movies that came before Raging Bull, and doesn’t have an ounce of the cinematic intensity of similar scenes in Creed. Coupled with multiple fight scenes and even more training scenes, Bleed for This is lacking in an urgency to its boxing action and a dramatic depth to narrative. Simply showing that Pazienza enjoyed gambling at card games doesn’t give the audience enough depth into his mindset as he risks life and limb to reenter the ring.

Despite the clichéd roles that they’re presented with, the highlights of Bleed for This are the complimentary performances of Aaron Eckhart and Miles Teller. The latter gives his strongest performance since Whiplash, and Pazienza is also similar in their tireless dedication. Eckhart plays against Pazienza’s brutish determination with a man that has experienced pain and doesn’t want to see his student make things worse for himself. All the moments of triumph and tragedy that are effective in Bleed for This come from these two actors sharing the screen, though even their assured performances can’t overcome the underwhelming script.

Hard as it tries, Bleed for This finds nothing new in the boxing genre. It’s funny that a sport that has been declining in popularity for the past few years still continues to inspire movies. But if boxing is going to fight its way back into the public’s consciousness, it’s going to need more Creed and less Bleed for This. There’s just nothing that floats like a butterfly or stings like a bee in Bleed for This. It’s a movie that dances around the ring and doesn’t throw a single punch that surprises. It’s certainly not a winning formula.

Bleed for This
  • Overall Score
2.5

Summary

Led by strong performances by Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart, Bleed for This can’t overcome its cliché -riddled script from writer-director Ben Younger, which finds little new in the story of Vinny Pazienza.

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