Directed by Ben Younger Starring Miles Teller, Ciaran Hinds, Aaron Eckhart, Film Review by Sean Drake
The opening sequence of Writer and Director Ben Younger’s Bleed For This is perhaps the most fitting of openings for a film that aims to depict the story of a man who, regardless of the circumstances, chose to do things his own way irrespective of what he was told. Arriving late to the weigh-in of a title bout against Roger Mayweather because he was trying to shed those last minute pounds, tells us exactly what we need to know about our protagonist from the start. He’s different and that’s how he’ll succeed.
Miles Teller, star of the fantastic Whiplash (2014), and the not so Fantastic Four (2015) takes up the role of world champion boxer Vinny Pazienza. It’s an inspirational comeback story, about an overly confident and extremely talented athlete whose career is placed in jeopardy after a serious car crash breaks his neck. Forced to relinquish his title, Pazienza is told he’ll never box again and is medically advised to have his spine fused. Not ready to give up on the thing he knows how to do best, he refuses the surgery, determined to return to the ring.
When you break down Pazienza’s story, you have the perfect formula for a Hollywood biopic, and in many ways Bleed For This gives you everything you’d expect. Unfortunately it was always going to be a difficult task to produce anything that was going to advance the boxing genre in any way, having said that, Ben Younger (Boiler Room, 2000) gets a lot right with this picture.
The casting choices are particularly strong, with some great performances across the board. Teller manages to capture elements of Pazienza’s cock-sure attitude, both inside and outside of the ring and it is in these moments that he is at his best, charismatic and charming.
Ciaran Hinds (Game of Thrones) whom plays Vinny’s father/manager Angelo Pazienza is one of two standout performers; alongside the consistently brilliant Aaron Eckhart; who effortlessly steps into the role of Vinny’s straight talking Coach Kevin Rooney. It is through these two characters that we witness the true depth and effect of Vinny’s plight. Angelo is perhaps affected the most by Vinny’s accident, and Hinds captures this with great sincerity and emotion.
Fired as Mike Tyson’s coach, Eckhart’s character Kevin Rooney has as much to prove in this story as Vinny does. When the two meet they are both desperately looking for a win to get their careers back on track, and as events unfold it is this non-blood related relationship that overshadows the rest.
From a directorial point of view Younger makes some sophisticated choices. He makes a conscious effort to allow the camera to remain still when the contents of the frame are enough to sell the message of the scene. In combination with some hard-hitting use of sound, the two techniques allow the images and their intentions to resonate with the viewer whether the action is taking place inside or outside of the frame.
It’s good to see Younger back at the helm of a feature film, and overall it’s a fairly solid return. The main gripe many may hold against Bleed For This is possibly a lack of connection with Vinny’s personal journey; despite the intense physical trauma he endures he’s always so confident of his comeback that it’s hard to ever doubt him. By the end we’ve seen more growth and change in his family and friends than we have in Vinny. The family bond of the Pazienza family shines throughout, and Younger’s choice to emphasise this bond is a smart one. The audience quickly come to realise that every hit Vinny takes, is a blow to those who care most about him.
For all the moments that Bleed For This does right (of which there are many), by the time the credits roll it’s very difficult to shake the feeling of just being underwhelmed by it all. This may be more of a comment on a genre that has likely become too predictable and formulaic than the film itself.
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