Bleed for This, the new boxing biopic and real-life comeback story of Vinnie Pazienza, is directed by Ben Younger and stars Miles Teller, Aaron Eckhart, Ciaran Hinds, Katey Sagal and Ted Levine.
Boxing movies are their own special subgenre of the sports epic and seem to have their own rules and expectations. While boxing is a tough, disciplined and brutal sport, movies about it can serve as a real-inspiration in ways that few other movies can, especially speaking to us on a personal level about guts, determination and overcoming adversity.
On top of that, everyone loves a comeback and in the case of Vinnie Pazienza, this is a truly impressive story of probably one of the most stubborn people I’ve ever seen. Winner of multiple word champion boxing titles, he was a brawler who was the second boxer in history to win both the lightweight and junior middleweight world championships. Then disaster struck in the form of a car wreck which left him with a broken neck, but thankfully not paralyzed. This part of his story is all just the setup in the first act and it’s told in an interesting way that introduces Paz, his family and trainer Kevin Rooney, who had been Mike Tyson’s very successful trainer up until 1988.
Given the basic sports formula, a good cast of solid acting talent and this real-life champion as ingredients, Bleed for This really should have been better. Which is not to say that this is a bad movie, because it’s not. But it’s not everything it could have been. It’s just a bit too formulaic, too rote and unoriginal to stand out against such movies as Rocky, Creed, The Fighter much less Raging Bull.
Now that being said, this movie is a good effort and it’s worth seeing. The thing that is makes it more than a standard sports comeback paint-by-numbers formula is the quality of the acting. Miles Teller in particular gives a standout performance, which we already knew he was capable of from his role as jazz drummer Andrew Neiman in one of 2014’s best movies, Whiplash. Both there and here he plays characters who are fanatically devoted to their craft and who achieve a level of greatness very few of us can ever hope to attain but who all of us admire.
It’s not just Teller but also Aaron Eckhart’s solid supporting role as Paz’s trainer, Kevin Rooney, that carries the story forward. Like everyone else, he was convinced that Paz’s career was over after his neck breaking accident, but it was Rooney who was the first to believe in the possibility of a Paz comeback and helped him secretly train in his parent’s basement.
Ciaran Hines and Katey Segal do competent but slightly over-the-top work playing Paz’s parents, both of them real characters themselves with plenty of New England quirks and heavy accents.
In terms of the training and boxing scenes, this is no Creed or Rocky. The boxing choreography and shooting style is competent but nothing special and won’t particularly have you on the edge of your seat. I purposefully did not do any research about Vinnie Pazienza’s story, so didn’t realize that they took quite a few liberties in Paz’s fighting record, but the end was still satisfying.
All things considered, I’m giving this movie a rating of Pretty Good. If you want to see good acting and feel inspired by the real life success of Vinny Pazienza, then check this one out. Leave me any feedback or comments on what you thought. Thanks for watching.