From Writer-Director Ben Younger comes Bleed for This, the true story of boxer Vinny Pazienza, who fought to box again after a horrific car accident left him nearly paralyzed. Does the film give audiences anything new or is it just the same tired boxing movie tropes?
Vinny Pazienza (Miles Teller), a former champion boxer, suffers defeat at the hands of Roger Mayweather (Peter Quillin). His trainer, Lou Duva (Ted Levine), and his promoter, Dan Duva (Jordan Gelber), feel like it’s time for Vinny to hang it up, but Vinny’s father, Angelo (Ciarán Hinds), begs to differ. Vinny seeks out a new trainer in Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), a man who once trained Mike Tyson. Kevin gets Vinny back into fighting form, bumping him up a couple of weight classes, and Lou and Dan get him a fight with the WBA World Light Middleweight Champion, Gilbert Dele (Jean Pierre Augustin), which Vinny wins. He’s a champion again. Then it all falls apart when Vinny is involved in a devastating car accident that nearly paralyzes him. His doctor gives him two options: he can fuse Vinny’s spine or he can put Vinny in a metal halo and let his body heal on its own. With the first option, there is no risk of paralysis, but Vinny will not be able to fight again, and with the second, any jarring or bump, could sever his spinal cord – it’s that serious. Vinny takes the risk and goes with the halo, because he wants more than to simply walk, he wants to fight again. While he is convalescing at his parents’ house – his mother, Louise is played by Katey Sagal – Vinny begins secretly working out in the basement, against doctor’s orders. He enlists Kevin to help him and they set out on completing the greatest sports comeback of all time. Will Vinny succeed or will he irreparably damage himself trying to attain greatness?
Bleed for This is a good movie, but definitely don’t compare it to real life if you want to keep some mystery about how all this really went down. Yes, Vinny definitely had his car accident and he did get back into the ring, but as with all biopics, the timeline is fudged a bit for heightened drama. Let’s start with the fact that if you went into this film without knowing anything about Vinny Paz, you would probably come out of the movie thinking he was a lousy fighter who just got lucky here and there. Here’s the truth: Vinny’s lifetime record was 50-10 and he was 31-5 after beating Dele. That’s a great record. He was a really talented fighter, but the film makes it look like he just likes to get punched in the face a lot. Also, the timeline of his fights are all wrong in the film, but again, the opponents are shuffled around to heighten the drama, so it’s kind of forgivable, but I guess that’s why the film is “Based” on a true story. The film mainly works because of the characters and the inspiring story of Vinny’s recovery. There is a lot of humor in this film and aside from an annoying macho streak in Vinny, he’s a likable protagonist. His family is also quite humorous and a lot of credit needs to go to Younger for keeping the tone light in certain parts, because this film could have been a very bleak drama with a nice ending – Kevin is an unrepentant drunk, which is sometimes played for laughs, but could have easily gone the other way, especially considering how Vinny’s car accident plays out. It’s also really tough to watch the beatings that Vinny takes. The boxing scenes are very well-choreographed and the actors do a fine job with them. Ultimately, though, his miraculous recovery from such a frightening injury is inspiring and teaches a lesson of never to give up, especially on what you love, even if what you love is getting punched in the face.
All the actors do fine work here. Teller demonstrates the promise he showed on films like Whiplash and The Spectacular Now to make Vinny a likable if not infuriating character. Eckhart delivers one of his best performances since The Dark Knight, while Hinds and Sagal are great as Vinny’s parents. Ted Levine, for me, was almost unrecognizable as Lou and he does a nice job here. Amanda Clayton also does a nice job here as Vinny’s sister, Doreen. Just a nice ensemble putting together some solid acting work. Their chemistry and interactions are the best parts of the film.
Overall, Bleed for This isn’t going to reinvent the boxing movie genre, but it is an entertaining and enjoyable film with an interesting angle. The comedic elements are really what keeps the audience engaged until you realize halfway through the film that you actually care about Vinny and his family.