Director: Ben Younger
Cast: Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Katey Sagal
Watch Bleed for This online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Rakuten TV / Google Play
There are boxing movies and there are boxing movies. Bleed for This desperately wants to be the latter, but while it comes out swinging, it never lands a killer blow.
The determination to bring something new and dramatic to the table is evident right from the off, as writer-director Ben Younger selects the tale of Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a real life boxer with a remarkable tale more inspiring than Rocky and more painful than Raging Bull. At the age of 29, Pazienza was told he’d never walk again, let alone step back in the ring. Younger’s biopic is the story of his comeback, which proved everyone wrong.
The fights have a convincing wallop, with Miles Teller throwing himself into the role with real dedication – he spends most of the movie with a gigantic Halo brace around his head and neck, restricting his movements and leaving Vinny unable to do almost anything, never mind train to get back on the ropes. Teller’s winces and grimaces as he fights his way through the smallest of day-to-day acts are gut-wrenchingly convincing, leaving you flinching every time the metal headset takes even the slightest hit. Between this and his equally punishing turn in Whiplash, it’s a wonder Teller can even walk straight off-screen, let alone act.
But while this astonishing feat of physical and mental commitment is genuinely incredible, Bleed for This never lives up to that standard. The underdog sports comeback has been done countless times before on camera, but Bleed for This is so confident in its true central story that the rest of the production simply ticks the usual boxes off, one by one. The extraordinary becomes something disappointingly ordinary.
Montages, working class familial struggles and shouting matches are all present and correct, while even Aaron Eckhart as Vinnie’s balding coach, Kevin, feels like the kind of familiar transformative supporting role designed to attract awards buzz. There’s a glimpse of something curious in Vinny’s parents, with his mother a devout Catholic praying for her son to win fights, while still disliking violence, but this is an unavoidably by-the-numbers affair, with even the hair and period details paraded about with a little too much flair, leaving this true story feeling more artificial than many fictional boxing flicks. (An unrecognisable Ciarán Hinds as Vinny’s dad is one of the few cast members able to out-act his costume.) The result has all the ingredients for a classic boxing movie, but the dull footwork’s too heavy and familiar, leaving you feeling dazed, rather than knocked out.
Bleed for This is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.49 monthly subscription.
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