VOD film review: The Bleeder (Chuck)
Schreiber and Moss9
Direction and editing8.5
Script and soundtrack8
Matthew Turner | On 21, Aug 2017
Director: Philippe Falardeau
Cast: Liev Schreiber, Elisabeth Moss, Naomi Watts, Ron Perlman, Jim Gaffigan
Watch The Bleeder online in the UK: BBC iPlayer / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / TalkTalk TV / Google Play
Directed by Philippe Falardeau, this entertaining biopic (released in the US as Chuck) stars Liev Schreiber as boxer Chuck Wepner, a liquor salesman and boxer from Bayonne, New Jersey, nick-named The Bayonne Bleeder, on account of his ability to take a punch in the ring (albeit not without losing copious amounts of the red stuff). However, Chuck’s career changes overnight, when he’s picked to take on Muhammad Ali (Pooch Hall) in a much-publicised title bout, the result of which inspires Sylvester Stallone (reasonable facsimile Morgan Spector) to write Rocky.
Unfortunately, Chuck’s brush with fame ends up going to his punch-drunk head and the film charts his descent into booze, drugs and womanising, culminating in the destruction of his marriage to second wife Phyllis (Elisabeth Moss). A flirtation with sassy barmaid Linda (Naomi Watts) offers some late in the day redemption, but only if Chuck sorts his life out first.
If there’s any justice, Schreiber will find himself in next year’s Best Actor race for his performance here, as he completely inhabits the role, portraying Chuck as a slightly naive knucklehead, who remains painfully sympathetic, even when his life starts to resemble a slow-motion car crash. That level of sympathy is also boosted by some enjoyable Goodfellas-style voiceover narration – “Did ya hear that? I told ya, you’d heard of me!”, he says, delightedly, after somebody calls him “the real Rocky”.
Moss is equally good as Chuck’s long-suffering wife (she gets a terrific scene where she ambushes Chuck and one of his conquests in a diner) and there’s colourful support from both the peerless Ron Perlman as Chuck’s manager and comedian Jim Gaffigan as Chuck’s dopey best friend. By contrast, Watts is ever so slightly miscast, but it’s hard not to be won over by their chemistry.
Falardeau maintains a brisk pace throughout, aided by Richard Comeau’s smartly efficient editing, which perfectly matches the flow of Schreiber’s narration. In addition, the film has a rich period atmosphere, courtesy of some exceptional production design, some perfectly chosen costumes (in particular, Chuck’s well-worn plaid overcoat, which weathers the decades along with him) and a terrific 70s soundtrack.
The script (co-written by Schreiber) has an ear for enjoyable dialogue and there are a number of great moments, such as Chuck agreeing to fight a bear in a bar (the opening scene) or a nice running gag where Chuck gets angry every time he hears someone call him “The Bleeder”, as if he’s not quite aware that’s become his nick-name. On top of that, Falardeau orchestrates a couple of terrific set-pieces – the Ali fight is a particular highlight, and there’s also an excruciating sequence where a coked-to-the-gills Chuck, his best friend and a couple of prostitutes take an impromptu road trip so Chuck can audition for a part in Rocky II.
Gripping, laugh-out-loud funny and surprisingly moving, this is an impressively directed and superbly acted biopic that’s well worth seeking out. Highly recommended.
The Bleeder is available on BBC iPlayer until 12th August 2019.