Miles Teller (Whiplash, Footloose) stars as Vinny ‘Paz’ Pazienza, a boxer from the East Coast who manages to win world titles in various weight categories. With a close-knit family supporting him, led by his father Angelo (Ciarán Hinds), Vinny is happy living life to the full and thrives on his status as a minor local celebrity.
Shortly after he claims the junior middleweight belt, Paz is involved in a serious car accident and left with injuries to his back and neck. Surgeons not only tell Vinny that his career is over, but reveal that his chances of ever walking again are slim. He is told that any injury he sustains during the lengthy recovery ahead of him could be fatal… but Vinny isn’t the sort of man to listen to advice.
Turning his back on his network of friends and family, Paz returns to former coach Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart) and begins to secretly train in his basement. After months of working together, Kevin and Paz line up a return bout, but the odds are stacked against the young fighter.
Boxing movies are ripe for parody, and it must be a temptation for any filmmaker to dwell on the training montage tropes and rags-to-riches narratives we often see on screen. Rocky, now fast approaching its 40th anniversary, is the template for modern in-ring films, and it is full of moments audiences now expect to see.
Regardless of whether Vinny’s true story is as extraordinary as in the movie, we are all programmed to look for his triumphant comeback. On this level, ‘Bleed For This’ is hamstrung by the constraints of the genre.
Teller, who bulked up for his disastrous outing as the leader of The Fantastic Four in Josh Trank’s turgid superhero effort last year, certainly looks the part. He has the world-weary face of the pro-boxer, unlike some of the pretty boy actors who have stepped in the ring in the past. Director Ben Younger (Boiler Room) plays on this, managing to seamlessly weave in actual footage of Vinny into the film, giving everything an additional air of authenticity.
Another smart move on the part of the filmmaker is to inch away from the romantic side of things. There isn’t a loving partner helping Vinny overcome his demons, what we get instead is series of women curl up to the champ and disappear as quickly as his funds do after the accident, as well as a grumpy, balding trainer who pulls the boxer out of his self-inflicted doom.
The sparring trainer/fighter combination of Eckhart (The Dark Knight) and Teller adds a light touch to the story. Their dynamic, although still not entirely original, is impossible to resist. They alternate in leading the partnership, both relying on one another when faced with desperate situations and obstacles. The ‘everyone is against us’ mentality is easy to understand when Rooney and Paz announce their intention to return to competitive fighting.
‘Bleed For This’ isn’t an original take on boxing movies, and is unlikely to win any awards, but it is still an entertaining effort full of great performances.
Bleed For This is on general release from December 2