When Bleed For This started, I immediately thought to myself, ‘Oh boy yet another boxing movie’. I mean, haven’t we seen every variation of this genre, particularly with the great ones like Rocky, Raging Bull, The Fighter, Champion. This film, from writer/director Ben Younger seemed headed in predictable directions, and then ZOWIE, this so-called boxing film really does become what its ads promise, “the greatest comeback story in sports history.”
As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch) I had never heard of Vinnie Pazienza, the World Champion boxer from the 80’s who won titles in three different classes. He even defeated Roberto Duran twice. Duran had his own boxing film earlier this year with Hands Of Stone. That one can’t lay a glove to what Younger, with the help of superlative work from Teller as Pazienza, accomplishes here.
This was a successful fighter who fell on hard times a bit when he couldn’t win a round. He teamed up with trainer Kevin Rooney (an excellent Aaron Eckhart), who also was coming back from despair after being fired by Mike Tyson. The two experienced highs together, then lows, but then disaster when Pazienza gets into a near-fatal car crash and is told he may never walk again, much less fight. He has what is known as a Halo on his head, screwed tightly into his neck, and can’t move for months, or least that is what he was told. But within five days of getting the device, crucial to his even marginal recovery, he is back training, determined to show he can fight again someday. Rooney quietly encourages this, while other family members are appalled when they find out.
Pazienza’s road back to the ring was truly remarkable in every sense of the word and this film makes us feel every drip of sweat along the way. Like The Fighter, the emphasis here is on the human element, and it gets everything right. Teller is magnificent in this part, really inhabiting the spirit of this never-say-never guy, a fighter in life even more than in the ring. Losing weight and body fat for fight scenes, gaining it back for recovery scenes Teller is dedicated beyond to do justice to this man who still lives and thrives. Eckhart is very fine in the Rooney role, a man with his own set of problems but joined at the hip with Pazienza. Katey Sagal is also terrific, in a lower key than usual, as Vinnie’s mom Louise. There’s great work too from Ciaran Hinds as Angelo, Vinnie’s difficult father. With loud, garish clothes, this tight knit Italian-style family are a colorful clan, fun to watch in a movie that really earns your respect for the force of nature known as the “Pazmanian Devil”.
Producers are Younger, Chad A. Verdi, Emma Tillinger Koskoff, Pamela Thur, Bruce Cohen and Noah Kraft. Mr. Raging Bull himself Martin Scorsese lent his name and expertise in the area as an executive Producer, giving Bleed For This a sort of Seal Of Approval. It is worthy. Open Road goes out wide with this on November 18.
Do you plan to see Bleed For This? Let us know what you think.