I am not much of a boxing fan, so unless I am watching a Rocky film or Raging Bull, that is the extent of my boxing knowledge. Bleed For This is the true story of boxer Vincent Pazienza, a man on the rise in the professional boxing world. He started out in the lightweight and light middleweight classes and later on in the super middleweight. He had amassed some very impressive wins against fighters who were world renowned like Melvin Paul, Joe Frazier Jr., Harry Arroyo, Nelson Bolanos and Roberto Elizondo. Vinny, as he was called, lived a fast life with women, booze and gambling and later in his career it started to take its toll. He racked up losses against Roger Mayweather, Hector “Macho” Camacho and Loreto Garza. His body began to fail and it is then he decided to advance to the heavier weight class. That is until he suffered a devastating injury in an almost fatal car crash.
His neck nearly snapped in two, he is paralyzed. The doctor tells him that they can perform a procedure to fuse his neck back together. The good news is that he will be able to walk again. The bad news is that his boxing days are over. One wrong move, one wrong punch can kill him, let alone put him back into paralysis. This is unacceptable to Vinny, but it is a reality he must accept, to a certain degree. Fitted with a medieval looking harness that is bolted into his head called a Halo, he spends the next six months doing virtually nothing except watching TV and reflecting. He decides he would rather die trying than sitting for another six months. He begins to train unbeknownst to anyone at first, later with his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart). Rooney is reluctant, at first, but agrees as long as no one else knows.
Bleed For This was written and directed by Ben Younger who brought us great films like Boiler Room and Prime and this is his first feature length film since Prime was released in 2005. He has done some short films and an episode or two for TV, so one might think he is rusty. Bleed For This dispels that issue right out of the gate. This is a great film. Miles Teller is fantastic as Vinny. Brash, egomaniacal, loud and pushy. Teller is all of these things but he still maintains a vulnerability and human quality that is likable. Teller is a phenomenal actor (okay, we can forgive him for the latest incarnation of The Fantastic Four, can’t we?) who has really impressed me with two other films Whiplash and this year’s War Dogs. He is a major talent. Aaron Eckhart also impressed me with his portrayal of Kevin Rooney. Rooney was a bit down on his luck when he agreed to take Vinny on to train. He had made some money in the past which had gone to a blue Porsche and lots of alcohol. Eckhart and Teller have great chemistry and really drive this film.
Ciarin Hinds is a hoot as Vinny’s overbearing father and one of his promoters. He is a bit of a cad, but as the film progresses you see his fear of what can happen to Vinny if something goes wrong. It is a very real fear and Hinds is convincingly earnest. In one scene, almost in tears, he tells Vinny “I can’t stand by and watch you hurt yourself, anymore.” Another great supporting performance is Katey Sagal as Vinny’s mother, Louise. She does not say too much but she has that look a mother has when she knows her son is scared and restless. Those worried eyes tells you a mother knows more than she reveals when it comes to her children. Sagal is wonderful in a rather small role as a mother who loves her son, but huddles in a room with paintings of Jesus Christ and lighting dedication candles every time he fights. She cannot bear to watch but periodically, will poke her head out of her nesting place to see how her son is doing. Ted Levin is almost unrecognizable as Lou Duva, Vinny’s former trainer who thought they should have both hung it up a long time ago. Levin is also quite funny to watch and gives the film some added depth.
At the heart of Bleed For This is Teller who bobs and weaves his way through Younger’s script which deals with faith, belief in yourself and with the right people behind you, the mountains that can be climbed. This is an incredible true story and I was glued to the screen. It does not break any new ground in the boxing genre of filmmaking, but it is a terrific story, impeccably paced by Younger who also directed Bleed For This. It may have been over ten years since his last film, but Younger shows he is a true talent. This is not a big budget Hollywood film with a fake, ra-ra ending. This is a powerful film about real people trying to beat impossible odds. Whether it has been ten years or twenty years when it comes to filmmaking, Younger shows he’s not missing a beat.
Bleed For This – ****1/2 out of 5
Bleed For This – Rated R for language, nudity, gore and violence
Bleed For This – Run Time is 120 minutes
Bleed For This is now playing in theaters. Check your local listings for times and locations.