'Bleed for This'
It’s time for another inspirational boxing movie. They never end. You know, “fighting for your life,” “putting it all in the ring,” etc. ‘Bleed for This’ is essentially the same old story, just a little different. It’s also a pretty good version of the ol’ routine in the ring, anchored by some solid work by Miles Teller. The flick won’t win accolades for originality, but for those who enjoy this sort of thing, consider an itch scratched.
There will be better entries in this genre, just probably not until next year. But if any awards group decides to open up a “Best Boxing Movie” category, we’re good.
This time, the focus is Vinny Pazienza (Teller), a loudmouth welterweight fighter with more attitude than brains. The movie opens with his latest fight in Caesar’s Palace, in which Vinny is beaten and depressed. Surrounded by a brassy Massachusetts family, the film initially seems to set itself up as another round of ‘The Fighter‘, with Vinny agreeing to train under Mike Tyson’s old trainer (Aaron Eckhart) and finally go all-in for the gold. Then he suffers a car accident that leaves him paralyzed. That complicates the comeback, making it a battle against insane odds with dangerous weight training. When the man is ready to get back in the ring, it’s hard to find a fighter willing to spar with him. Tricky stuff, but the movie wouldn’t exist unless the comeback was confirmed, now would it?
‘Bleed for This’ exists because Miles Teller took an interest in the project at a time when he has enough clout to get a star vehicle launched. It’s ideal casting. Vinny Pazienza was a loudmouth with voracious appetites and a quite high opinion of himself. Miles Teller… can certainly do that. He’s funny and alive and weird and endlessly filled with attitude in all the ways that Teller does well. He handles all the physicality of the role with ease, from the fighting to the breakdown and recovery. Where he doesn’t exactly nail things is when it comes time for Vinny to be humble and show that he’s learned hard lessons. Teller’s fine. It just feels like a more forced performance at that point. Hmmm, I wonder why that might be?
Director Ben Younger (‘Boiler Room’, ‘Prime’) fills out the supporting cast with strong presences for Teller to bounce off. Ciaran Hinds is uncharacteristically unhinged as his father (in a great way). Katey Sagal does the doting mother routine better than most. Best of all, Aaron Eckhart disappears into his alcoholic trainer role to steal as many scenes as he can.
The whole thing feels calculated to be an awards contender and likely won’t succeed in those aims because it’s just too obvious. Every actor is given a ridiculous costume and several mouthfuls of scenery to chew. The rise-and-fall arc is played at maximum volume to make sure that audiences are appropriately wooed in all the obvious ways. Unfortunately, there’s never a moment where viewers will forget they’re watching actors acting extra hard so that their acting can be appreciated. Even in the star-packed ‘The Fighter’ (an almost embarrassingly obvious influence here), David O. Russell and company would occasionally stop showboating long enough for humanity to slip in around the cracks. Not so in ‘Bleed for This’, sadly. It’s all showboating all the time.
It’s possible that was deliberate. After all, the movie is about a man who was arguably better at grabbing attention than at fighting. Perhaps Younger leaned into that attitude to make it a theme on screen. That’s probably giving everyone too much credit, though. This is a movie that everyone approached with capital “I” importance with their eyes on the prize, and that’s to the film’s detriment. This should have been a small story that surprised through its inspirational diversions and adventures. Instead, every obstacle comes with a feeling of inevitable triumph that robs all suspense and surprise from the screen. You watch purely to admire the famous faces playing for the rafters, and when the credits roll, it feels a bit unsatisfying.